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

Preventing Relapse

In addition to introducing men and women to Christ, helping addicts to maintain sobriety is the primary responsibility of a residential recovery program. Learning to read, completing high school, and gaining other life skills are important. But, if residents cannot remain sober, we have only succeeded in creating smarter Biblically literate drunks. The act of using drugs or alcohol is an end result of a process that began long before. Addicts relapse when it is more painful to stay sober than it is to get “high.”

The immediate benefits of ceasing drug and alcohol use include: improved health, better sleep, return of appetite, and clearer thinking. However, all addicts eventually face a challenge even more difficult than stopping drink ­ing or using drugs coping with life without them! Doing so involves a whole lot more than just “put ­ting the cork in the bottle.” They must learn a com ­pletely new way of life. We often refer to this process as “recovery” – the Bible calls it “sanctifica ­tion” a definite ongoing program of personal growth

Major Causes of Relapse

A. Denial – inability to accept that one is indeed addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and that it is a primary cause of life problems.

B. Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome – inability tocope with a set of very stressful, physiologically-based symptoms that occur only after use of alcoholand drugs has stopped

C. Emotional Dysfunction – inability to cope with feelings such as grief, depression, stress, fear, etc., without mind altering substances.

D. Relational Dysfunction – inability to develop and maintain healthy relationships with others.

E. Temptation – inability to deal with the issue of sin in one’s life.

F. Dishonesty – the inability to maintain a commit ­ment to rigorous honesty which is the foundation of a life of recovery.


Some Relapse Prevention Strategies

A.  Scriptural Priority – Worship, prayer, Bible study, and Scripture memory all equip the person new to sobriety to overcome temptation and live a life that is pleasing to God.

B. Take Relapse Seriously – It must be clearly understood that use of alcohol or drugs results in immediate dismissal from the program. This could mean simply being asked to leave the facility, demotion to “transient” status or referral to another pro ­gram. After thirty days, the client can be reassessed for re ­entry to the program. The worst possible situation is to give the client the impression that everyone has at least one drunk “in the bank.” We can be assured that they will use it!

C. Addiction Education – Gaining more knowledge about ad ­diction serves two very important functions. It helps the ad ­dict in denial accept his condition. And, this knowledge can be a tremendous source of comfort and reassurance for those struggling with post acute withdrawal symptoms and the emotional difficulties that come with early recovery. Newly sober addicts need to understand that they are suffering from a malady that is shared by others. Education also gives hope that change is possible. Many resources are available:  lending libraries, literature, videos, and local professionals who can speak at the mission. Contact IUGM’s Education Office for information on educational resources for use in a mission setting.

D.   One-on-One Counseling – Every participant in a long-term program needs at least one hour a week with a staff member who understands addiction to help them through the struggles of early recovery. Relapse is a process no one is working a solid program of recovery one day and drunk the next. Therefore, one very important goal of these sessions is to help them to recognize their relapse patterns and learn to interrupt them before the process leads to actual use.

E. Support Groups – Good support groups provide recover ­ing addicts with a safe, non-judgmental setting to share their struggles, thoughts, and feelings without fear of rejection. Hearing the stories of others with similar difficulties and how they overcame them provides valuable encouragement for them to go on in a life of sobriety. Because addiction wreaks havoc upon an individual’s relationships with oth ­ers, support groups are also a great place to begin the diffi ­cult and painful process of re-connecting with other people.

F. Relationships – One especially important area where those in recovery need special help is in learn ­ing how to form healthy relationship and avoid de ­structive ones. Unhealthy relationships, especially of the romantic sort, are one of the biggest causes of re ­lapse. Teaching about godly relationships, even in the sexual area, helps them to avoid getting caught up with people that are not good for them. New re ­lationships with the opposite sex should be put off for the first year of sobriety.


July/August 1996