Teen Challenge

A global network of faith-based rehabilitation programs offering a path to recovery through Christ.

Teen Challenge is a widespread Christian faith-based solution network aimed at aiding individuals struggling with addiction to find recovery and transformation. Founded by David Wilkerson in 1960, this organization has grown into a global presence, focusing on long-term residential programs typically lasting 12-18 months. These programs are designed not just for treatment but for transformation, emphasizing the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s word to guide students towards becoming mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well, and spiritually alive.

The core of Teen Challenge’s approach to recovery is a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This foundation is believed to transform those suffering from addiction into vibrant, free, and sober individuals. The curriculum and community within these centers are deeply rooted in Biblical principles, offering practical and accessible Bible-based courses that address not just the physical aspects of addiction but the spiritual voids that often accompany such struggles. With over 220 residential centers across the United States, Teen Challenge provides a comprehensive support system that includes classes, individual study, personal mentoring, work ethics training, and involvement in the Christian community.

Studies on the effectiveness of Teen Challenge programs have shown varying results. Some research highlights the organization’s success rates, with one study indicating a 78% success rate for those who complete the program​​​​. However, these studies have also attracted criticism, particularly regarding the consideration of dropout rates and the selection of clients. Public policy has also been influenced by Teen Challenge’s practices, with notable support from political figures like George W. Bush for alternative licensing procedures for faith-based organizations​​.

Teen Challenge has faced significant controversies, particularly in relation to accusations of severe abuse and neglect at its facilities. These allegations include physical abuse, lack of proper oversight, and the use of controversial practices such as conversion therapy. There have been specific incidents reported, such as the near-death of a 15-year-old named Samson Lehman, which brought to light the severity of some of these accusations. Between the early 2000s and 2012, authorities in Florida responded to at least 165 allegations of abuse and neglect related to Teen Challenge, encompassing accusations of sexual abuse and physical injury. The organization has also been involved in at least two lawsuits filed by parents alleging abuse and neglect of minors in their care. Additionally, Teen Challenge’s strict adherence to employing only Christians and the organization’s comments on converting clients to Christianity, including the controversial term “completed Jews” used by a former President, have sparked debates on religious intolerance and the appropriateness of public funding for faith-based initiatives​​.

Despite these challenges, Teen Challenge remains committed to its mission of providing adults and teens freedom from addiction and other life-controlling issues through Christ-centered solutions. By focusing on spiritual renewal and community support, Teen Challenge aims to offer a second chance to those looking to overcome addiction and live a life of freedom in Christ​​.

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