Teen Challenge is a Christian evangelical/ pentecostal organization, founded by Bill Wilkerson, author of The Cross and the Switchblade, which became a popular movie in 1970. Teen Challenge does drug and alcohol rehab. So far so good, except they are not primarily for teens. They started out as an organization for teen drug addicts, but now they are mostly not. Yes, they serve anyone over 18 years old, and a small portion of them are still teenagers. But 80% of the “teens” in teen challenge are over 20 years old.
So why don’t they change their name to Adult Challenge? Well, they have, sort of. They are now called Adult and Teen Challenge, but the local branch, which serves only adult men, still raises funds under the name: Teen Challenge. Because they couldn’t raise even half the amount of money they raise now if they gave up the Teen moniker. The public would much rather donate to an organization that is selflessly helping 16 year old drug addicts than adult drug addicts. So it is more important to them to mislead their donors into thinking that 90% of their donation is going to minors, and collect more money, than to be honest and tell people that their money is going to adult addicts. All while teaching their adults to be honest with their emotions so they won’t be drug addicted.
Additionally, over half the time of the participants who are being treated for drug and alcohol addiction is spent fund raising.
Most of the residents who enter Teen Challenge for rehab, have petitioned a judge to sentence them to Teen Challenge rehab instead of going to jail. Many courts grant this. The addicts in rehab are charged $800 per month, and also have to go out and “witness” to congregations, asking for donations. They set up tables in parking lots and on sidewalks asking for donations to Teen Challenge. Up to 80% of a participant’s time is spent unsupervised, raising funds. This is not made clear to participants when they are signing up for a 12 to 18 month rehab stint. But their choice is: go along with the 80% fund raising, or go to jail. This emphasis is also not made clear to the donors, who think these adults (“teens”) are spending the majority of their time studying for the GED, in Bible study, in wholesome activities, and learning how to be sober.
Teen Challenge is an authoritarian organization, much like an alcoholic family. The thinking is black and white, either-or, all or nothing. Teams of 3 or 4 participants are sent out to set up a table in a parking lot for several hours, or several days, asking for donations. One of these groups slipped up and bought beer while they were out fund raising for 4 days, and when the truth came out, all their privileges were wiped out and they had to start back at square one: no visits, and no phone calls from their relatives.
Teen Challenge encourages “witnessing”, which means the participant has to be ready to give a one minute to ten minute recap of their addiction sins and how God has helped them come to Teen Challenge and reform. At the conclusion of each “witness” there is the broad hint one should donate money. Teen Challenge calls churches and asks if they can sing at their church. The church sets up a time for the “teens” to come sing. They play recordings of worship songs, while a group of 5 or 6 adult participants sing along to the recordings. Then each participant does their testimony/witness, and then they ask for money.
Teen Challenge is not alone. The local high school and college campus ministries spend half their time fund raising. Youth With a Mission, Young Life, Campus Crusade and Intervarsity, all spend fully 50% of employed leadership time fund raising. If you are a volunteer on Young Life Committee, then 95% of your purpose is to help the leader fund raise. When I attended a church plant for a few years, there were two young women, one a recent convert and the other a Roman Catholic, who were claimed by both Campus Crusade and the church plant as their special converts. Those two young women, now not attending any church, were used as the reasons for fund raising in 2 different organizations.
The evangelical and pentecostal practice of “witnessing” or “giving one’s testimony” is supposed to build up our faith. The only problem with the practice is that the stories become more dramatic as they are re-told, until the stories are amazing and wonderful, and a bit too hard to believe. There are no investigative journalists to dig and find out how much of their stories are actually true. They are rewarded for exaggerating their stories. As believers slowly realize that many of these stories aren’t completely true, it ends up tearing people’s faith down instead of building faith up.