For the last 30 years or more, I have heard leaders in Teen Challenge struggle to define the valid outcomes of our program. We are often asked, “What is your success rate?” Donors, foundations, business leaders, and government officials are more concerned with the outcomes of a treatment program today than ever before. People are desperate to find something that works; but, they want facts to back up the claims around the subject of success.
Having been a part of Teen Challenge for the past 40 years in one capacity or another, I can tell you that we have a wide variety of answers to this question. Some will say we have an 86% success rate based on a study by Dr. Catherine Hess done in the 1970s. I’ve heard others say we have success rates in the 70-percentile range. I have often said something like this, “Of all the studies that have been done on Teen Challenge over the years, we generally find that our success rates range from 70 to 80 percent.”
Well, let me confess that we are just making estimated guesses, and most of our Teen Challenge centers have no proof of genuine success rates based on empirical data. I know a few centers do conduct studies with outside firms every five or more years, but I would venture to say that we know little about how well we are really doing.
Our graduates are proof that the Teen Challenge program works. I travel the world and meet so many of you who are graduates of Teen Challenge and who are doing well in your careers and lives. Some 50 to 60% of all staff are graduates of the program and have been clean from drugs for years. Many of our directors are graduates of the program. So, we have antidotal evidence, but that is not enough when people want numbers.
After 60 years as a ministry, I think it is time we have our own evidence of impact. We know Christ changes lives, and we know those who complete the program and do internships are more likely to live drug and alcohol free than those who quit the program early.
Research studies show that those who attend 30-day programs have a 4-8% chance of living drug free. Research also shows, in all studies done on addiction over the years, that those who attend programs of 12+ months have a 40% success rate. Those statistics include all programs. They do not consider the power of faith’s impact on an individual’s life. So, Teen Challenge will likely have a much higher success rate than 40%, but we must create a tool that will measure our graduates and give us the facts we need to substantiate our effectiveness.
Some are concerned that the idea of doing the math or taking the time to measure our students and graduates will somehow cause us to change our focus. Let me just use one biblical example of the importance of math and measurement. Remember how clear God was when he told Noah to build the ark? Math was a critical part to the success of that effort and the work to which God called Noah. He had to follow the directions exactly as God had given him in order to succeed. Math helped accommodate the animals, the food, the families and success of the mission. We should not be afraid of the numbers. We should welcome a study of our programs, as we know it is the power of Christ that changes a life. That is why we are pressing forward to create and develop a measurement system for Teen Challenge.
Let me assure you that we at Global Teen Challenge are committed to the values that this ministry was built on, and we are also committed to excellence and the goal of helping every Teen Challenge center thrive and succeed. If we are to put hope within reach of every addict, we all need to thrive in our program operations, our faith in God, and in our sustainability. To reach more addicts, we must grow and leverage the impact of our 1,400+ programs globally.
Global Teen Challenge is working on an initiative that we’re calling Discover Recovery. We see the importance of measuring our work and providing clear data to validate our effectiveness. We understand that individual progress with recovery is complex. Delivering a hand of hope or a spiritual inspiration at exactly the right moment can often encourage one’s transformational walk. That is why we believe the system we are building will enable the staff to have better insight into each student’s need as they journey toward recovery.
An operation with the size, diversity, and scale of Global Teen Challenge requires new thinking for which technology is perfectly suited. We are working to build the largest body of data ever collected on addiction to PROVE faith in God is the ultimate transforming force to solve this plague.
A team of leaders with Global Teen Challenge is working on the design and structure of this model. We hope to launch a beta test in 2019. It has been needed for years, and we are on the verge of accomplishing it. Please keep us in your prayers and thoughts as we work on this effort.
If you have questions, feel free to ask your regional director, and they will give you the information we have to date. I believe in Teen Challenge and our program’s ability to deliver outcomes, and I am excited to see us validate this with proof.
Jerry Nance PhD
Global Teen Challenge