What Is Celebrate Recovery?
If you have ever considered joining a self-help group centered around staying sober from alcohol, you may be familiar with structured 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. However, you may be unaware of an alternative type of recovery program known as Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered program that helps people who have a history of alcohol use disorder and other addictive behaviors overcome their challenges and live a life of sobriety. Compared to Alcoholics Anonymous, it is more rooted in biblical principles, and it may resonate more with people who recognize as a higher power Jesus Christ.
Here’s what you need to know about the history of Celebrate Recovery, the purpose of Celebrate Recovery, and how Celebrate Recovery’s 12 step recovery principles can help you achieve your sober living goals.
What Are the Origins of Celebrate Recovery?
To fully understand Celebrate Recovery, it’s important to know how the original group came about. Celebrate Recovery was founded by an Evangelical Christian named John Baker in 1991. John Baker had personally struggled with alcoholism, and he used his testimony to create a biblically-based twelve-step program. Because John Baker was so forthright about his struggles, his program is “credited with helping destigmatize addiction among evangelicals,” according to Christianity Today. John Baker shifted the concept of the church as a place of worship to the church as a safe place in which people with addictive behaviors can seek recovery.
After attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to help him through his struggles with alcoholism, John Baker realized that he could take the lessons he learned from the AA twelve-step structure and integrate them even more closely with biblical teachings. He found that there wasn’t yet a place within the Evangelical Church to discuss alcoholism and recovery and that his biblical 12 step interpretations were not readily accepted at AA meetings.
To fill the gap, he approached Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and shared with him his vision of pairing each of the 12 steps with biblical scripture. According to the official website of Celebrate Recovery, this vision was presented in a simple, 13-page, single-spaced letter. Pastor Rick read this now celebrated letter and, as legend has it, said “Great, John—go do it!”
The Celebrate Recovery Movement Started Small
When John Baker first approached Rick Warren with his idea to start the Celebrate Recovery program, the Saddleback Church was organizing itself in meager dwellings, holding services at a high school gymnasium. On the first night of Celebrate Recovery, 43 people attended, according to the official CR website. Since then, 27,000 people have gone through the program at Saddleback Church alone, and the program has extended far beyond the reaches of Lake Forest, California.
How Popular Is Celebrate Recovery Now?
The success of the Celebrate Recovery program has spread throughout the country and world. Over the past 30 years, the program has spread to 35,000 churches. According to Christianity Today, it has been utilized by more than 7 million people. The Celebrate Recovery program is not confined to churches, either—it is also practiced by people in sober living houses, college campuses, and prisons, with the state of New Mexico incorporating Celebrate Recovery into all of its state prisons. In California, Celebrate Recovery is also a state-approved substance abuse program in the prison system.
What Sort of Addictive Behaviors Are Addressed in Celebrate Recovery?
Celebrate Recovery bills itself as a large umbrella program that can help you overcome many different issues that are tied to addiction – which it defines as a “pattern or trained response to an internal reaction to painful experiences and wounds.” The program can help you achieve sobriety from any "hurt, habit, or hang up," including alcohol addiction, drug abuse, gambling addiction, sexual addiction, food addiction, relationship addiction, anger problems, and eating disorders, among others. Regardless of the nature of the addiction, or addictions, the principles of Celebrate Recovery can be used to help you change the patterns of your behavior, recognize your powerlessness against your addiction, and accept the help of Jesus Christ in overcoming the addictive behavior and forming new, healthier patterns.
What Are the Philosophies of Celebrate Recovery?
Since Celebrate Recovery is derived from the recovery principles of AA, the 12 steps of Celebrate Recovery are mirror images of the AA steps, paired with pieces of scripture. When you embark on the Celebrate Recovery 12 step journey, it is called a Step Study. However, beyond these 12 steps of daily living, the Celebrate Recovery program also embraces the serenity prayer, as well as the 8 Recovery Principles, which are based on the eight beatitudes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
What Are the 12 Steps of Daily Living in Celebrate Recovery?
The twelve steps of Celebrate Recovery pair each of the original AA mantras with a line of biblical text. They are as follows, drawn from the official CR website.
- We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18 NIV
- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 NIV
- We decided to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1 NIV
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Lamentations 3:40 NIV
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16a NIV
- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 NIV
- We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 NIV
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NIV
- We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 NIV
- We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 1 Corinthians 10:12
- We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Colossians 3:16a NIV
- Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1 NIV
What Are the 8 Beatitudes of Celebrate Recovery?
The eight beatitudes of Celebrate Recovery help distinguish this recovery program from other 12 step programs. These eight beatitudes are drawn from the Sermon on the Mount, and they outline the foundation of the program. They are paired with the above 12 steps to provide a comprehensive way of framing your thinking when you are recovering from alcoholism or other addictions.
Here is the road to recovery based on the 8 beatitudes, with an outline of how they correspond to the 12 steps, as presented on the official CR website:
Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. (Step 1)
“Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.” Matthew 5:3a TEV
Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover. (Step 2)
“Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 TEV, NIV
Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. (Step 3)
“Happy are the meek.” Matthew 5:5a TEV
Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. (Steps 4 and 5)
“Happy are the pure in heart.” Matthew 5:8a TEV
Voluntarily submit to any and all changes God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. (Steps 6 and 7)
“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires” Matthew 5:6a TEV
Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others. (Steps 8 and 9)
“Happy are the merciful.” Matthew 5:7a TEV; “Happy are the peacemakers” Matthew 5:9 TEV
Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will. (Steps 10 and 11)
Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and my words. (Step 12)
“Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.” Matthew 5:10 TEV
How Does the Structure of Celebrate Recovery Work?
When people are being introduced to the Celebrate Recovery program, they first attend large group meetings and then proceed into open share small groups. There is usually a pre-meeting dinner that comes before the large group meeting, and this can be a beneficial way to bond with others who are going through the same sorts of challenges.
Small groups are often organized into themes, with some being issue-specific (such as a small group exclusively for those struggling with alcohol addiction), or gender-specific. These groups help members work through issues in an intimate setting, in which they can come to celebrate God's healing and the role of God in their recovery.
What Sets Celebrate Recovery Apart?
According to Pastor Rick Warren, who was involved in permitting the original founding of Celebrate Recovery, there are seven features of the program that differentiate it from other recovery programs.
As taken from Rick Warren’s article, these seven features include:
- Celebrate Recovery is based on God’s Word
- Celebrate Recovery is forward-looking
- Celebrate Recovery emphasizes personal responsibility
- Celebrate Recovery emphasizes spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ
- Celebrate Recovery is built on the biblical principles of real community
- Celebrate Recovery addresses all types of habits, hurts, and hang-ups
- Celebrate Recovery moves members into ministry
If you are looking for a church-based recovery program, as opposed to a peer-led community program, Celebrate Recovery may be the right option for you when it comes to breaking free from your addictive behaviors. Rather than focusing primarily on one-to-one interactions, Celebrate Recovery engages the entire church fellowship to hold members accountable for their personal growth and change.
Finding Support Through a Celebrate Recovery Meeting
If the above principles of Celebrate Recovery resonate with you, it’s important to know how to find a Celebrate Recovery group in your area so you can get started on your recovery journey. Use this meeting locator tool to help you search by zip code or state, and filter by the resources that you need.