Paul Watson Headshot

Project: Freedom Initiative  
 Paul D. Watson  


The Freedom Initiative works with Believers, prison-focused ministries, and local churches to start Disciple Making Movements among the 10 million people impacted by incarceration in their United States that will reduce recidivism and have a positive Kingdom impact on local communities by equipping and empowering current and former inmates to live out their purpose as disciple-makers.

Project Categories

  • Innovative Approaches to Church Planting: Bivo/Covo and Business for Mission Models and Expressions

  • Innovative Approaches to Church Planting: Micro Models and Expressions
  • Innovative Approaches to Church Planting: Methods and Models for Mobilizing Everyday Missionaries

Big Idea and Overview

The Freedom Initiative trains and equips local Believers and prison-focused churches and ministries in Disciple Making Movement principles, processes and tools, to go into local prisons and jails to equip and coach incarcerated prisoners to be disciple-makers and start Discovery Bible Studies among prisoners who do not follow Jesus and help them fall in love with Him and become disciple-makers. (Before COVID lockdown, we had over 30 Discovery Bible Studies in the Clements Prison Unit with about 300 men participating in weekly Discovery Bible Studies. Currently, we are rebuilding and have 50 men across 11 Discovery Bible Studies. We’ve also expanded into 5 prisons in Texas as a result of leaders being transferred. There are DBSes in all of those prisons.) As disciple-makers come up for parole, they are recommended by the Body of Christ inside the prison to the local Freedom Initiative advisory board. (We have one advisory board in Amarillo, TX, and an emerging advisory board in San Diego, CA.) The local advisory board assigns the paroling disciple-maker two mentors – one who was formerly incarcerated and one who has never been incarcerated. (We have multiple coaches and mentors in Amarillo. Starting in June 2023, we meet weekly on Zoom with coaches and mentors from Amarillo and San Diego for training, coaching, and equipping.) These mentors work together to assess the parolee’s situation and help them find the services they need to successfully reintegrate with society. Additionally, these mentors help the parolee connect with a local Disciple Making Community, which uses the same format as their Disciple Making Community inside prison, to help them stay focused on their purpose of living out the Great Commandments and the Great Commission wherever their reentry journey takes them. (In Amarillo Gregg, who served as a disciple-maker inside Clements and is a part of the Freedom Initiative while on parole, is a mentor. He has two Disciple Making Communities and has helped 11 men as they reintegrated into society over the last year.)

Customer / Mission Field Context

Over 2 million men and women are currently incarcerated in jails and prisons throughout the United States. Their incarceration impacts an estimated 8 million people – husbands, wives, children, friends, and extended family – outside of prison. The current national recidivism rate is around 70%. Simply put, out of every 100 prisoners released from prison in 2023, 70 of those will return to prison by 2026. The Freedom Initiative works with Believers, prison-focused ministries, and local churches to start Disciple Making Movements among the 10 million people impacted by incarceration in their United States that will reduce recidivism and have a positive Kingdom impact on local communities by equipping and empowering current and former inmates to live out their purpose as disciple-makers.

Goals and Desired Outcomes

  1. We want to see prisoners become disciple-makers and lead other prisoners into a relationship with Jesus and into being disciple-makers themselves using the Discovery Bible Study process and applying Disciple Making Movement principles within the context of prisons and jails.

  2. We want to set up a mentor-driven reintegration process, informed by a local advisory board, that connects newly paroled disciple-makers to sacred and secular service providers that will help them establish a thriving life outside of prison.

  3. We want to connect those newly paroled disciple-makers with a Disciple Making Community on the outside that will help them continue to make disciples as part of daily obedience to the Great Commission and Great Commandments.

  4. We want to see recidivism decrease and fall below the national and state percentages as a result of formerly incarcerated individuals living with Great Commission purpose and having a Kingdom impact in community with disciple-makers who are doing the same.

  5. We want to see Disciple Making Movements start inside prisons and spread outside prisons as disciple-makers are released on parole and continue making disciples as they were equipped to do so while they were incarcerated.

Results and

Before Lockdown, after coaching with Jack McCarty, a prison chaplain, for two years, we had a Disciple Making Community comprised of incarcerated Believers within one of two maximum security prisons in Texas. These disciple-makers started over 30 Discovery Bible Studies, involving around 300 men, that had reached the 5th generation of multiplication. Over twenty men were baptized before lockdown. During lockdown the number of studies became difficult to track as the prisoners had to come up with creative ways to read the Bible together. Ultimately, many of our leaders were redistributed to other prisons in Texas. We’ve received word from five of them letting us know they’ve continued to make disciples in their new prison home. Now we have five prisons in Texas with identified Disciple-Makers who have started Discovery Bible Studies. Two of those have started Discovery Bible Studies with family and friends on the outside using phone services. We are rebuilding the Disciple Making Community in the original prison and have 50 men currently involved in Discovery Bible Studies. One of our original leaders and disciple-makers, Gregg, was released from prison on parole after serving 19 years and a day of his sentence. Gregg is a critical part of our Freedom Initiative Team in Amarillo and has been instrumental in identifying local service providers and creating our Amarillo Advisory Board.

As people hear Gregg’s story and the story of what happened in Amarillo, they are inspired to establish Freedom Initiative Chapters in their own communities. A few months in to 2023, we began working with Aaron Buttery, a yard pastor in San Diego, to identify local service providers and church partners, establish a San Diego County Freedom Initiative Advisory Board, and begin finding incarcerated believers to train and form into a Disciple Making Community that will make disciples and start Discovery Bible Studies inside Donovan prison. Jack McCarty began a Remember The Prisoner podcast to equip incarcerated disciple-makers that is available to prisoners in 38 States on their tablets. We are currently working with Jack, who is now part of the Freedom Initiative Team, to upgrade and expand the podcast into a robust equipping and prayer-mobilizing tool. We’ve established a prayer partnership between the emerging church in the Amarillo prison and Disciple Making Movement-focused leaders in Germany. Volunteers get prayer requests from incarcerated disciple-makers and share them with the network in Germany. German volunteers gather requests and send them to their incarcerated brothers in Amarillo. Both groups share stories of how God is answering prayers. We want to see every prison and jail in the United States connected with Disciple Making Movement efforts worldwide as houses of prayer.

Passion: When I (Paul) worked as a Director of a homeless shelter and recovery center in downtown Portland, OR, we opened our facilities during the afternoon for homeless women to have a safe place to eat, take showers, and find clean clothes. One day, a homeless woman who had just showered and got some clean clothes walked towards my table. Her hair was still wet and you could smell the shampoo. As she got closer, she stopped and sighed. “Do you feel better?” I asked. “I feel human.” she replied.
In that moment I heard God speak, “This is why you are here. These people have to live like animals to survive. You are there to remind them that they are human. If they remember they are human, then they will remember they have a soul. When they remember they have a soul, then they can find their Savior.” Another time, I was talking with the Lord and I felt Him ask, “Why do you call the men ‘Addicts?'”
“Well, they are. They will never be free to drink alcohol like others might. It helps them remember that.” I replied. “I didn’t make any man to be addicted or homeless.” I felt God say. “I made them to be fathers, business owners, and leaders. Because of sin and this broken, fallen world, they lost their way. Your job is to help them come back to being the men I created them to be. I want you to think of them as who I made them to be and not define who they are by their broken identity.” When you take those two profound teaching moments and combine them with being taught, as a son of one of the fathers of Disciple Making Movements, that we are to take the Gospel to all people and that all people are commissioned by God to be disciple-makers, then catalyzing Disciple Making Movements among prisoners and raising them up to be who God made them to be just makes all the sense in the world.

Media Assets

Snapshots of Innovation
Exponential NEXT Podcast