Adult & Teen Challenge

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Adult & Teen Challenge
Teen Challenge.png
FounderDavid Wilkerson
Area served
110 countries
Key people
Gary Blackard, President

Adult & Teen Challenge (formerly Teen Challenge)[1] is a worldwide network of Christian faith-based corporations intended to help teenagers, adults, and families with problems such as substance abuse or self-destructive behavior. It was founded by David Wilkerson in 1960 and headquartered in Ozark, Missouri.

The organization faces accusations regarding severe abuse and ill treatment at its rehabilitation camps.[2][3]


The ministry that would later become Teen Challenge (and in 2017 changed to "Adult & Teen Challenge")[1] was founded in 1960 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.[4][5][6] Teen Challenge started its first residential program in December 1960, in a house in Brooklyn,[1] New York.

In 1973, 13 years after the ministry began, Teen Challenge established a national headquarters.[1]

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.[1]

In 2017, the organization officially changed its name to Adult & Teen Challenge, to eliminate confusion about the fact that they work with adults as well as teenagers in their addiction treatment centers.[1]


Teen Challenge programs have a general duration of 12 months.[7]

Adult & Teen Challenge USA[edit]

Adult and Teen Challenge USA is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit headquartered in Ozark, Missouri. Its current President is Joe Batluck. Though self-governing, it also exists as a department of the U.S. Missions division of the Assemblies of God USA.[8] The US network consisting of ~85 501(c)3 corporations representing ~200 residential programs.[9]

Global Teen Challenge[edit]

Global Teen Challenge is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit headquartered in Columbus, Georgia.[10]

The mission of Global Teen Challenge is to assist with the development of new centers outside the US,[11] but they also provide resources and training to the existing programs.

In 2017, Global Teen Challenge is in 110 countries representing 1100 programs.[12]

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.[13]

A Wilder Research study of 141 former residents who graduated Minnesota Teen Challenge between 2007 and 2009 reported that 74 percent of adult program graduates (10 percent of respondents were teenagers) reported no use in the previous six months, 58 percent had attended school since graduating, 74 percent were employed, and 53 percent rated the overall quality of Minnesota Teen Challenge as “outstanding”. When asked to name what helped most, the faith-based aspects and the staff were mentioned most frequently.[14]

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".[15] Bicknese found that Teen Challenge graduates reported less drug-use recidivism than the hospital-program graduates, but not less than those who continued attending Alcoholics Anonymous after the hospital program. His results also showed that Teen Challenge graduates were much more likely to be employed, with 18 of the 59 working at Teen Challenge itself, which utilizes graduates in its operations.[16]

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.[17] According to a 2001 New York Times item, some social scientists complain that the 86 percent success rate of Teen Challenge disregards those who dropped out of the program, and that like many private and religious organizations, Teen Challenge selects its clients. Teen Challenge reports that 25 to 30 percent typically drop out in the program's first four-month phase, and 10 percent more in the next eight months.[16] In their testimony before the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, have claimed that the much-quoted success rates "dramatically distort the truth", due to the lack of reference to the drop-out rate.[18] Doug Wever, author of "The Teen Challenge Therapeutic Model", 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."[19]

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.[20]

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." [21][22] The "completed Jews" phrase has been used by some Christians and Messianic Jews to refer to people who previously followed Judaism and have become believers in Yeshua (Jesus);[21][22] many Jewish groups consider it offensive because of the implication that those who don't believe in Jesus are "incomplete".[21][22] Critics of faith-based funding cite this as an example of how religious intolerance could be publicly funded.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Our History • Adult & Teen Challenge USA". Adult & Teen Challenge USA. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  2. ^ Szalavitz, Maia. "Investigative Report Reveals Some Religious Reform Schools Are Havens for Child Abuse". Time. Archived from the original on 2019-07-10. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  3. ^ Zayas, Alexandra (2012-10-26). "Tampa Bay Times". Archived from the original on 2019-07-10. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  4. ^ Randall Herbert Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, Westminster John Knox Press, USA, 2002, page 677
  5. ^ Christopher D. Ringwald, Principles of Addiction: Comprehensive Addictive Behaviors and Disorders, Volume 1, Academic Press, USA, 2013, page 289
  6. ^ Elizabeth M. Dowling, W. George Scarlett, Encyclopedia of Religious and Spiritual Development, SAGE Publications, USA, 2006, p. 444
  7. ^ Christopher D. Ringwald, The Soul of Recovery: Uncovering the Spiritual Dimension in the Treatment of Addictions, Oxford University Press, UK, 2002, page 138
  8. ^ "USMissions - Our Mission". Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  9. ^ "Center Finder • Adult & Teen Challenge USA". Adult & Teen Challenge USA. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Teen Challenge, Our Story Archived 2017-01-08 at the Wayback Machine, Official Website, USA, Retrieved January 7, 2017
  13. ^ Johnston, Archie (September 1973). "Heroin Addiction: Teen Challenge vs. Transactional Analysis: A Statistical Study". Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Archived from the original on 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  14. ^ Hardeman, Rachel; Gerrard, Michelle Decker; Owen, Greg (2011). "Following up with graduates of Minnesota Teen Challenge" (PDF). Wilder Research. Retrieved 2019-07-18.
  15. ^ Bicknese, Aaron (1999). The Teen Challenge Drug Treatment Program in Comparative Perspective. Illinois: Northwestern University.
  16. ^ a b Goodstein, Laurie (2001-04-24). "Church-Based Projects Lack Data on Results". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  17. ^ "Significant research that everybody should know". Archived from the original on 2009-02-21. Retrieved 2009-01-10.
  18. ^ "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. Archived from the original on 2009-01-12. Retrieved 2009-01-10.
  19. ^ Doug Wever of Alabama Teen Challenge and Global Teen Challenge in an interview, June 2009, Seale, AL
  20. ^ Maynard, Roy; Marvin Olasky (8 May 1995). "Governor Bush backs Teen Challenge". World Magazine.
  21. ^ a b c "Faith-Based Group Draws Criticism for Telling House Congressional Committee about "Completed Jews"". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 2001-05-24. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  22. ^ a b c Goodstein, Laurie (2001-05-25). "A Reference to Jews Heats Up Aid Debate". New York Times. p. A19.

External links[edit]