Teen Challenge was founded in 1958 by David Wilkerson, a pastor for the Assemblies of God. Wilkerson founded the organization to work among teenage gang members and socially-marginalized people in New York City.
From its humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, today, the organization, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, has grown to include approximately 200 independent centers/ministries throughout the USA and Puerto Rico. These centers provide youth, adults, and families with a faith-based solution with life-controlling drug, alcohol, and self-abuse issues.
Essentially, Teen Challenge USA is an evangelical Christian recovery program.
Teen Challenge also has a large presence internationally. Teen Challenge International is headquartered in Springfield, MO. This National Office grants accreditation, develops curriculum, supports local Teen Challenge ministries, and serves as a referral source for people who need Teen Challenge’s services in the United States. Accreditation standards provide a uniform means to maintain the integrity and unity of the Teen Challenge ministries.
Teen Challenge is often thought of as being just for drug and alcohol abuse, primarily because it has had success among that population. In actuality, though, Teen Challenge’s residential programs, which last 12 to 18 months, help adolescents and adults dealing with a variety of issues.
The holistic program focuses on healing on the spiritual, emotional, physical, social, and educational levels through the power of God. Students living at the residential centers awake early and their daily activities include: devotions, discipleship training, work projects, meal times, chapel services, Bible reading, recreational activities and secondary educational classes (adolescents).
Prayer is also a major component part of the Teen Challenge ministry. As the founder, Don Wilkerson stated, “In the beginning prayer was more important than the program. In fact prayer was the program. Prayer was the therapy session. Prayer in the morning, prayer in the afternoon, prayer in the evening…”
Now, Teen Challenge USA centers are divided into different phases, which include:
Phase I : Evangelism and Outreach – All centers, regardless of what phase they focus in, are expected to be active in Phase I.
Phase II : Crisis Center – Such centers may not be residential, but usually involve Phase I activity, as well as providing pastoral counseling and referral. The Phase II centers that are residential are typically very short term until a more permanent discipleship situation can be located.
Phase III : Induction Center – This phase generally lasts four months and serves as the introduction into the one-year discipleship ministry.
Phase IV : Training Center – This phase is eight months; all residents have graduated from Phase III induction centers. Discipleship continues, but focuses more on being a follower of Christ after graduation
Phase V : Re-entry – This phase is usually for graduates who require additional assistance in securing jobs or job skills, but can involve other reasons.
Phase VI : Restoration – This phase consists of centers serving graduates who have returned to old behavior patterns.
Teen Challenge has provided many youth and adults a way to turn their lives around by becoming closer to God. The organization can continue to grow with a generous donation.
Published or updated April 4, 2013.