Teen Challenge

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

Teen Challenge is a network of Christian faith-based corporations intended to help teenagers, adults, and families with problems such as substance abuse. It was founded by David Wilkerson in 1958.

With headquarters near Springfield, Missouri, Teen Challenge USA (TC USA) oversees the US network consisting of ~80 501(c)3 corporations representing ~200 residential programs.[1] Unaffiliated Teen Challenges (though related in purpose) have also been be started around the world, with ~100 countries representing ~1000 programs,[2] and are served by Global Teen Challenge based in Columbus, Georgia.


The ministry that would later become Teen Challenge was founded in 1958 by David Wilkerson, an Assemblies of God pastor who left a rural Pennsylvania church to work on the street among teenage gang members and socially marginalized people in New York City and who, perhaps, is best known for later authoring The Cross and the Switchblade and founding Times Square Church.

It wasn't until 1962 that Teen Challenge started its first residential program—the model it uses to this day.[3]

In 1973, 15 years after the ministry began, Teen Challenge established a national headquarters.[3]

In 1995, Global Teen Challenge was founded to assist the growing number of Teen Challenges starting up outside the US, but struggling to acquire the necessary resources and training.[3]


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 problems, such as substance abuse, 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."[4]


While the residential model continue to be the primary service of Teen Challenges around the world, an increasing number of community small groups and other non-residential models are also used.

Teen Challenge USA

Teen Challenge USA is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit headquartered in Ozark, Missouri. Though self-governing, it also exists as a department of the U.S. Missions division of the Assemblies of God USA.[5]

TC USA maintains accreditation standards, curriculum, training and resources to all Teen Challenge organizations within the United States and Puerto Rico.

Each individual US corporation is self-governing, though TC USA does require a minimum set of accreditation standards be met to be able to function with as a "Teen Challenge".

Global Teen Challenge

Global Teen Challenge is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit headquartered in Columbus, Georgia.[6]

The mission of Global Teen Challenge is to assist with the development of new centers outside the US,[7] but they also provide resources and training to the existing programs.

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:

Core Structure of Programs

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 1. 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 Christians and the Personal Studies for New Christians.

Studies of program effectiveness

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.[8]

A Wilder Research study of 154 former residents who graduated between 2007 and 2009 reported that:[9]

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" [10]

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.[11]

According to a 2001 New York Times item,[12] 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, 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.[13] 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."[14]

Public policy effects

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.[15]

Bush then created a state Task Force on Faith-Based Programs, to identify and lift regulatory barriers for faith-based social service providers. The task force included J. Herbert Meppelink, the Executive Director of South Texas Teen Challenge. 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." [16][17] Critics of faith-based funding cite this as an example of how religious intolerance could be publicly funded. (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.)


  1. http://teenchallengeusa.com/centers?type=all_residential
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  3. 1 2 3 http://teenchallengeusa.com/about/history
  4. http://teenchallengeusa.com/about
  5. http://usmissions.ag.org
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  8. Johnston, Archie (September 1973). "Heroin Addiction: Teen Challenge vs. Transactional Analysis: A Statistical Study". Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  9. Wilder research, Minnesota Teen Challenge follow-up Study - January 2011
  10. Bicknese, Aaron (1999). The Teen Challenge Drug Treatment Program in Comparative Perspective. Illinois: Northwestern University.
  11. "Significant research that everybody should know". Retrieved 2009-01-10.
  12. Goodstein, Laurie (2001-04-24). "Church-Based Projects Lack Data on Results". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  13. "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.
  14. Doug Wever of Alabama Teen Challenge and Global Teen Challenge in an interview, June 2009, Seale, AL
  15. Maynard, Roy; Marvin Olasky (08-05-1995). "Governor Bush backs Teen Challenge". World Magazine. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. "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.
  17. Goodstein, Laurie (2001-05-25). "A Reference to Jews Heats Up Aid Debate". New York Times. p. A19.
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