Teen Challenge

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A Teen Challenge choir doing a presentation at NYC Newfoundland in 2009.

Teen Challenge is a network of 501(c)3 nonprofit, faith-based drug and alcohol recovery programs in the United States.

Teen Challenge is a world-wide Christian ministry, with over 1000 programs in almost 100 countries.[1] In the US, there are more than 250 centers and Teen Challenge offers treatment through both teen and adult programs. The program is geared towards life recovery and restoration for drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, prostitutes and other “life-controlling” or “emotionally disabling” problems.

Each Teen Challenge program is independently operated or organized as a network of cooperating centers. All centers are governed by Teen Challenge International, USA (Ozark, MO).[2] Global Teen Challenge is headquartered in Columbus, GA.[3] which monitors accreditation standards, curriculum distribution, training and financial oversight. All programs are affiliated with the Assemblies of God Ministries.


Teen Challenge was established in 1958 by David Wilkerson, an Assemblies of God pastor who left a rural Pennsylvania church to work among teenage gang members and socially marginalized people in New York City and who, perhaps, is best known for founding Times Square Church. Teen Challenge was launched from a small office on Staten Island.

In 1960, the Teen Challenge headquarters was relocated to a large historical house in Brooklyn, New York.

By late 2008, Teen Challenge USA had grown to include 231 locations, including residential programs and evangelical outreach centers, in the United States.


The official Statement of Purpose of Teen Challenge is, "To provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society. By applying biblical principles, Teen Challenge endeavors to help people become mentally-sound, emotionally-balanced, socially-adjusted, physically-well, and spiritually-alive."

In issues of therapy, the program's intent is to provide a purposeful comprehensive focus on the whole life of the student relative to that student’s ability to function holistically free from chemicals, abuse, fear, dangerous habits, false core beliefs, and life damaging choices.

Global Teen Challenge helps provide materials and training for centers located outside of the United States.


Teen Challenge USA is a department of the U.S. Missions division of the Assemblies of God USA, but maintains a governing board separate from the denomination.[4] Global Teen Challenge has its own independent Board of Directors and denominational relationships are voluntary and cooperative.

The Teen Challenge program model has multiple structural designs. Some Teen Challenge centers operate as licensed chemical dependency treatment programs, offering both short-term and long-term rehabilitative options. Others operate as board and lodges focusing on helping those with any addiction or life damaging habits recover from the decisions, choices, and belief systems that have kept them in the vicious circle of using drugs and alcohol to cope with life.

Global Teen Challenge represents more than 1000 centers in 82 countries, and is headed by Jerry Nance, President and C.E.O.

Global Teen Challenge is divided into seven regions with a director or representative for each region. The seven regions with their directors and basic residential statistics as of November, 2010:

Global Teen Challenge is also represented by additional non-residential Teen Challenge ministries such as coffee houses and evangelistic centers and efforts. Individual Teen Challenge centers may vary in structure, practice format and licensure.

Core Structure of Programs[edit]

The TCUSA Board of Directors approved a "Phase" system to explain core structures of Teen Challenge. All centers of any Phase are expected to be involved in Phase I. The phase ministry is as follows:

Another major component of the Teen Challenge structure is the Teen Challenge curriculum by Dave Batty. This is known as the Group Studies for New Christian and the Personal Studies For New Christians.

Studies of program effectiveness[edit]

In 1973, Archie Johnston compared results of Teen Challenge with that of a transactional analysis approach at a Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution therapeutic community, and with a third group who received no treatment.

While the numbers of subjects was small (17 in each group), he found evidence to support his recommendation that, while Teen Challenge was an "effective" treatment (with a drug recidivism rate after 29 months of 32%), Transactional Analysis was a "very effective" treatment (with a comparable 16% rate), suggesting that perhaps the lower recidivism rates were a result of TA changing the addiction concept of the self-image more thoroughly and at a slower pace. He hoped that Teen Challenge would incorporate some psychotherapy into their treatment model.[5]

An independent analysis completed by Wilder Research has demonstrated MnTC’s effectiveness using a broad range of measures.[6]

In their study of 154 former residents who graduated between 2007 and 2009:

Aaron Bicknese tracked down 59 former Teen Challenge students in 1995, in order to compare them with a similar group of addicts who had spent one or two months in a hospital rehabilitation program. His results, part of his PhD dissertation, were published in "The Teen Challenge Drug Treatment Program in Comparative Perspective" [7]

Bicknese found that Teen Challenge graduates reported returning to drug use less often than the hospital program graduates. His results also showed that Teen Challenge graduates were far more likely to be employed, with 18 of the 59 working at Teen Challenge itself, which relies in part on former clients to run the program.

Much of these results were to Teen Challenge's benefit, and the high success rates (up to 86%) he found have been quoted in numerous Teen Challenge and Christian Counseling websites.[8]

According to a 2001 New York Times item,[9] it is the opinion of some social scientists that the 86 percent success rate of Teen Challenge is misleading, as it does not count the people who dropped out during the program, and that, like many voluntary NGO's, Teen Challenge picks its clients. The item quotes the Rev. John D. Castellani, then president of Teen Challenge International U.S.A., as saying that most of the addicts have already been through detoxification programs, before they are admitted. In the program's first four-month phase, Mr. Castellani said, 25 to 30 percent drop out, and in the next eight months, 10 percent more leave. In their testimony before the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, have similarly testified that the much quoted success rates "dramatically distort the truth", due to the lack of reference to the high drop out rate.[10] Doug Wever, author of, "The Teen Challenge Therapeutic Model" has stated, "I would respectfully suggest that the Texas Freedom Network's position here is overstated in that it's not unusual at all for the research design of effectiveness studies to look only at graduates; therefore the outcomes of these independent studies do provide a legitimate and dramatic basis for comparison given the results. At the same time, Teen Challenge must be careful to communicate what has actually been measured."[11]

Public policy effects[edit]

In 1995, auditors from the Texas Commission for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA) demanded that Teen Challenge obtain state licensing and employ state-licensed counselors. As a result, (then) Governor George W. Bush publicly defended Teen Challenge and pursued alternative licensing procedures for faith-based organizations. “Teen Challenge should view itself as a pioneer in how Texas approaches faith-based programs. I’ll call together people, ask them to make recommendations... licensing standards have to be different from what they are today,” then-Governor Bush said.[12]

Bush then created a state Task Force on Faith-Based Programs, to identify and lift regulatory barriers for faith-based social service providers.[1] The task force included J. Herbert Meppelink, the Executive Director of South Texas Teen Challenge.[2] The resultant 1997 and 1999 Texas legislation exempted Faith-Based Programs, such as Teen Challenge, from state licensing and the health, safety and quality of care standards that accompany that licensing.

Later, when Bush became US president, Teen Challenge was cited in public policy debates as an example of why such programs merit the federal funding of faith-based organizations. Its documented success rates played a role in the establishment of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001.

Conversely, such funding has come under attack through comments by John Castellani, the former President of Teen Challenge USA, during a House Government Reform subcommittee, examining the efficacy of religious social service providers. During the hearing, Castellani said Teen Challenge does not hire non-Christians as employees and, when asked if the group takes non-Christians as clients, he said yes, and boasted that some Jews who finish his Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews." [13][14] Critics of faith-based funding cite this as an example of how religious intolerance could be publicly funded.[3] (The "completed Jews" phrase is often used by Christians and Messianic Jews to refer to Jewish people who become believers in Yeshua (Jesus). The phrase is considered offensive to many Jewish groups because it suggests Jews are "incomplete" unless they believe in the divinity of Jesus.)

Global partners[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.globaltc.org/html/about_us.html
  2. ^ "Teen Challenge USA - National Office". Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  3. ^ "Global Teen Challenge". Retrieved 2008-11-22. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Assemblies of God, U.S. Missions". Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  5. ^ Johnston, Archie (September 1973). "Heroin Addiction: Teen Challenge vs. Transactional Analysis: A Statistical Study". Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  6. ^ Wilder research, Minnesota Teen Challenge follow-up Study - January 2011
  7. ^ Bicknese, Aaron (1999). The Teen Challenge Drug Treatment Program in Comparative Perspective. Illinois: Northwestern University. 
  8. ^ "Significant research that everybody should know". Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  9. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2001-04-24). "Church-Based Projects Lack Data on Results". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-12. 
  10. ^ "Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Human Resources and Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures of the House Committee on Ways and Means". House Committee on Ways and Means. 2001-06-14. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  11. ^ Doug Wever of Alabama Teen Challenge and Global Teen Challenge in an interview, June 2009, Seale, AL
  12. ^ Maynard, Roy; Marvin Olasky (08-05-1995). "Governor Bush backs Teen Challenge". World Magazine. 
  13. ^ "Faith-Based Group Draws Criticism for Telling House Congressional Committee about "Completed Jews"". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 2001-05-24. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  14. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2001-05-25). "A Reference to Jews Heats Up Aid Debate". New York Times. p. A19.