Leon Leonard was a Christian, but he didn’t go to church.

There were a few reasons. One, he hadn’t been in a long time. Two, he’d done some things he wasn’t proud of and was afraid of being judged. And then there was the third reason: Leonard was in prison, serving a nine-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

In the hallway of Lebanon Correctional Institution in Ohio, though, he noticed a poster for a megachurch that was starting its newest campus right there in the maximum security prison.

He signed up. Days later, the 24-year-old was sitting in a prison classroom with 22 other inmates and a married couple in their 20s, who played them recorded worship music and last week’s sermon on an old TV. The newest site of Crossroads Church wasn’t much, but it was what Leonard needed.

“It rekindled my relationship with God,” Leonard recalled. “I became more steady in my walk.”

Crossroads is one of a handful of multisite churches across the country that have launched campuses in state penitentiaries—maximizing the benefits of the replicate-ready multisite model to develop prison ministries that go beyond evangelism alone to focus on community and discipleship. Church By the Glades has sites in prisons in Florida; Church of the Highlands in Alabama; The Summit Church and New Hope Church in North Carolina; Gateway Church in Texas; First Capital Christian Church and Emmanuel Church in Indiana; and The Father’s House and EastLake Church in California.

At Lebanon, the church started in 2011 with Grant and Kyla Doepel burning a DVD of the service at Crossroads’ main location and bringing it into the prison each week. The inmates, including Leonard, would help ...

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