Measuring Success at Rescue Missions (Part Two)

How do we measure success at rescue missions? (Part Two)

Since January, when I first wrote about this topic, a lively discussion about it has continued on the IUGM’s e-mail discussion list.   It’s been interesting to see the various opinions that have been expressed by rescue mission workers.   As a result, I am more convinced than ever about the need for a consistent data-gathering process to measure the outcomes of rescue mission programs.   Here’s why I believe so strongly that we must get started with this process:

Strengthen Our Witness to the World — We know God is changing lives at our missions.   But how do we communicate this to people who do not share our spiritual convictions?   Actually, there is only one way;   by presenting some concrete numbers, which substantiate this fact in a language they understand. We must have real numbers to back up our claims!

A couple of months ago, this was brought home to me in a powerful way through a call from a reporter with the Washington Post.   She contacted me in the process of researching a story that to compared the success of “faith-based” programs in working with alcoholics and drug addicts with those that are government funded.

During a conversation that lasted almost an hour, I had a chance to talk about all the great things rescue missions are doing to help the addicted. Then she asked me the $64,000 Question, “What kind of success do your missions have in rehabilitating alcoholics and drug addicts?”   I was embarrassed to admit that we have not been doing on-going assessment of program outcomes, and that any figure I could give her would be just an educated guess.

A couple of weeks later I got a copy of the article, which was a three-page spread, starting on the first page of the Post’s Sunday edition.   It was complete with large photos and testimonies of people who had found sobriety at Teen Challenge and Victory Fellowship centers.   Both of these programs were given considerable attention, while the IUGM was mentioned in passing and the number of member missions was noted in a small chart.  

Why did they get all the attention?   Well, it was because they are keeping statistics!

Follow Up Need Not Be Difficult – I am not advocating a complex or time-consuming approach to program evaluation.   Spending a few hours once a year in contacting program graduates on the telephone or by mail (with return postage) is all that is needed to provide some concrete proof of good a job we are doing in our efforts to help addicts and alcoholics.   Only a few simple questions are necessary:

  • Have you been free of alcohol and drugs since leaving our program?
  • Are you using drugs and alcohol at this time?
  • Are you involved with a church?
  • Do you have job?
  • Do you have a home at this time?

And, as I mentioned in the previous article, a follow-up contact from your mission can be a real opportunity to encourage graduates, especially for those who may be struggling.

Program Evaluation is Good Stewardship — Every year, rescue missions spend literally millions of dollars in their efforts to help the needy.   It is our responsibility before God and our contributors to ensure that those dollars are spent wisely.

Much can be gained by taking time to see how well the graduates of our programs do after they leave our facilities.   Getting their feedback through an “exit interview” just before they graduate and following up on them after they leave will certainly help up to improve our programs.

Here are a few areas that can be enhanced through on-going program evaluation:

Staffing/Client ratio: Do we have enough chaplains, counselors, etc., to provide adequate one-on-one interaction with program participants?

Facilities: Is the building and environment conducive to a life-changing program?

Policies & Schedule: Are these promoting responsibility while providing a therapeutic environment?

Curriculum: Is the instruction component of the program adequately equipping participants to live as Christians, maintain sobriety, and face the issues of their lives successfully.

Program Scope & Activities: Are you providing kinds of services that will assist participants to be successful after they leave the program, i. e. educational activities, employment readiness, addiction-specific programming, etc.

Program Length & Process: Do participants spend enough time with you to really become prepared to live a new life once they are on their own?   Is there a system for measuring their progress within the program?

At this time, we are developing a program that can been used throughout the IUGM to evaluate program outcomes.   We would very much like to hear from you’re on this subject, so we encourage you to contact us at the IUGM’s Education Department.

October 1998

Measuring Success at Rescue Missions (Part One)

How do we measure success at rescue missions?   (Part One)

I frequently ask staff members, “How is your mission doing?”   The answer is usually about numbers:   meals served, nights of lodging, food boxes distributed and so forth.   Sometimes I hear about growing budgets, additional staff members, new facilities, etc.   However, when asked about the purpose of their mission, the most common response is “evangelism and discipleship.”   While today’s missions offer a wide array of programs, most have not lost sight of their most important distinctive – fulfilling the Great Commission.   (Matt.28:19).   We need to put forth some special effort, though to establish that we are indeed doing this.

Preaching the Gospel and making disciples sets rescue missions apart from other social agencies working with the homeless.   Yet, some don’t keep a written record of decisions for Christ at their facilities.   Few know what percentage of their program graduates go on to gain at least one year of sobriety.   Not many know if their graduates remain committed to a local church or participate in support groups.   Unless graduates, themselves, make an effort to stay in touch, most have no on-going process for determining how many of their graduates currently live responsible Christian lives.

Counting bed nights is easier than determining how successful we are at making disciples.   However, if we are meeting the needs of those we serve, there ought to be concrete evidence of changed lives.   Regular follow-up efforts can provide us with accurate records that will help us to determine how successful we are at desired results through our programs.

For rescue mission recovery programs, here are a few items to address in annual or bi-annual follow-up efforts by phone or through the mail:

  • Continuous sobriety after program completion
  • Regular participation in support groups
  • Employment and training obtained after graduation
  • Christian growth and involvement with the Church
  • Improved personal and family relationships

Benefits of doing follow-up on program graduates include:

A. Program Evaluation – The population we serve is changing.   They are younger than ever and they have a host of problems that we didn’t see just ten or fifteen years ago.   If we are to truly meet their needs, we must understand them.   Understanding how our graduates do after they leave our facilities will help us to improve our programs.

B. Showing continuing concern for graduates   – A follow-up contact from the mission can be a real opportunity to encourage graduates, especially for those who may be struggling.

C. Substantiating fund-raising claims – “Compassion fatigue” is a phenomenon in bigger metro areas like New York and Los Angeles.   It is becoming more evident in smaller cities, too.   It can be summed up in this statement, “OK, now that we’ve spent all these millions of dollars on the homeless, what have we got to show for it?   Homelessness is on the increase!”   They need to know that the homeless really are changing at   our missions.   We need real numbers to back up our claims.

D. Taking advantage of “Charitable Choice” – With sweeping changes in the welfare system, Christian organizations will receive government funds without having to compromise on their spiritual emphasis.   Missions that choose to pursue some of this money will have more success if they can show the concrete results of their efforts.

E. “Witnessing to the world” – Does Christ really change lives?   I believe He does!   You can’t survive very long as a mission worker if you don’t.   Having concrete numbers to substantiate this fact is a genuine testimony of God at work in our fallen world.

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, contact IUGM’s Education Department.

February 1998

What about Smoking and Recovery from Addiction?

Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society.   It is responsible for about 419,000 US deaths each year.   Smoking accounts for 1/3 of cancer deaths. It is a major cause of heart disease and cancers of the lungs, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, uterus, cervix, kidney, and bladder.   The average smoker shortens his life by fifteen years!

Nicotine and Addiction to Other Drugs & Alcohol

In 1988 the US Surgeon General reported that nicotine is just as addictive as heroin and cocaine. A “hit” of nicotine reaches the brain in seven seconds, twice as fast as a   syringe of heroin injected into the vein.   Recent studies have shown an irrefutable link between smoking cessation and success in drug treatment.   Some have indicated that alcoholics and drug addicts who also stop smoking are up to eight times more likely to remain clean and sober!   For this reason, practically all major hospital-based treatment facilities are now “smoke free”.

There is an important spiritual principle in all of this.   Paul says, “I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).   Having one habit that maintains “mastery” over me means I don’t have complete victory in my life.   This is a foothold in my life for “the enemy” that makes me more susceptible to other forms of temptation — like using alcohol and drugs again!

Practical Ideas for Recovery Programs

A.   Make your building a “smoke free zone –   Every year   thousands of nonsmokers die from inhaling “passive smoke”.   So, setting up a special smoking area either in the building or outside will avoid risking the health of mission workers, visitors, and clients.

B.   Let the staff show the way – Mission employees must be good examples by not smoking themselves. For those who do smoke,   it might appropriate to pay for whatever help they might need to stop.   Dividends of a “smoke free” staff include a lower rate of absenteeism and lower health-related insurance expenditures.

C.   Make smoking cessation a definite component of your long-term program – Stopping smoking should not be a requirement for entrance into a mission recovery program.   It may be appropriate, though, as a prerequisite for graduation or for moving into a latter phase of the program.   Just like other addictions, smokers need special support from classes, support groups, counseling, and other activities.   A number of recovering addicts have actually told me that quitting alcohol and drugs was easy compared to quitting cigarettes.   There are many good resources available including smoking cessation classes in the community,   literature, and videos from a varitety of health organizations.   It many be possible to arrange for someone from one of them to do regular presentations on the topic for your residents.

D. Recognize the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal  Physiological symptoms include: decreased heart rate, increased blood pressure and brain wave changes.   Those who quit smoking often experience impaired physical coordination and a decreased ability to concentrate. Severe cravings for tobacco, sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety and gastrointestinal disturbances also may occur.   So, they need a lot of support and encouragement as they work through all this.

F.   Make sure residents are stable in sobriety before trying to quit smokingA mission long-term residential program is a special supportive environment.   This makes it a great place to tackle nicotine addiction.   Still, newly sober people should be reasonably stable in recovery before attempting to quit smoking.   For some, trying to quit toosoon can be stressful enough to cause relapse.   So, I recommend at least six months to a year before attempting it.

Organizations that Provide Resources for People Who Want to Quit Smoking


Local  chapters and affiliates of these groups as well local hospitals are a potential sources of free literature and other educational resources and can point you to smoking cessation classes in your area.


Most statistical information for this article was taken from Smoking or Health   – It’s Your Choice by   Cathy Becker Popescu and J. M. Carey, American Council on Science and Health, New York, NY 1992   (select the link to access the PDF version)


NOTE:   If you have found approaches that have been especially successful, we want to hear about them!   Please contact me.




May/June 1996