Celebrate Recovery is a substance abuse recovery program based primarily on biblical teachings and the words and loving power of Jesus Christ.1 Founded 25 years ago by pastor Rick Warren and the Saddleback Church in California, it started with just 43 people but now has groups in 29,000 churches all over the globe with more than 3.5 million participants.1,2
Despite its religious affiliation, more than 70% of Celebrate Recovery’s members come from outside the church. However, more than 85% of people who complete the program are now actively involved with the church, and more than 42% of former or current participants serve as church volunteers.1,2,3
While some recovery programs only deal with drugs or alcohol, Celebrate Recovery works to address all kinds of “habits, hurts, and hang-ups.” In fact, at Saddleback Church, just 1 out of every 3 people who attend Celebrate Recovery struggles with alcohol or drugs.3
The program is based on the 12 Steps and 8 Guiding Principles, which come from the biblical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about 8 ways to be happy—also referred to as the Beatitudes. Celebrate Recovery focuses on interaction and group fellowship too, which goes along with the New Testament principle that we need each other to grow emotionally and spiritually.3
If you attend a Celebrate Recovery meeting, you can expect a:4
- Large Group Session. The first part of every meeting includes men and women and typically starts with a worship session followed by an introduction and an offering (though no one is expected to give at their first meeting). Next, the 8 Biblical Principles and 12 Steps are read aloud. You are then encouraged to share a personal testimony or story, which helps you relate to other members of the group. The final part of the large group session is a reading of the serenity prayer.
- Small Group Session. After the large group session, men and women break into smaller gender-specific groups to talk about recovery on a more personal level.
- Café. The final component of the meeting promotes fellowship, and attendees gather for snacks and to spend time getting to know other members.
The 12 Steps and Biblical Comparisons
The 12 Steps, along with the 8 Principles, offer a path toward freedom, hope, sobriety, and healing. Celebrate Recovery takes the traditional 12 Steps from AA and adds a biblical complement to each concept:5
- “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.” This step comes from Romans 7:18, which states, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”
- “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This step is based on Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
- “We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.” Romans 12:1 says, “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.”
- “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The equivalent of Step 4 can be found in Lamentations 3:40, which says, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”
- “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Similarly, James 5:16 states, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
- “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
- “We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.” Likewise, in John 1:9, the scripture says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
- “We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” The biblical comparison is found in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
- “We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Step 9 is based on teachings from Matthew 5:23–24, “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.”
- “We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” The equivalent to this step is Corinthians 10:12, which states, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
- “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.” Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
- “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.” Galatians 6:1 talks about this when it says, “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.”
According to Celebrate Recovery, these steps help you stay sober because they all help you establish or renew your relationship with God. Recovery is seen as a secondary result of that relationship.3
The 8 Recovery Principles
Celebrate Recovery’s model contains 8 Principles that work with the 12 Steps to lead members toward sobriety.6
- “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.” This principle goes hand-in-hand with Step 1 and is based on Matthew 5:3a: “Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.”
- “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover.” This principle fits with Step 2 and the scripture equivalent is Matthew 5:4: “Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
- “Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.” Principle 3 works with Step 3 and is based on Matthew 5:5: “Happy are the meek.”
- “Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.” This principle goes with Steps 4 and 5 and refers to Matthew 5:8a, which says, “Happy are the pure in heart.”
- “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 work with principle 5, which is based on Matthew 5:6: “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.”
- “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.” This principle is based on “happy are the merciful,” which is from Matthew 5:7 and goes with Steps 8 and 9.
- “Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.” This principle should be tackled with 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.” Principle 8 and Step 12 go together and are based on Matthew 5:10, which says, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.”
These 8 Principles, together with the 12 Steps, can help you live a life devoted to Jesus Christ and develop a deeper relationship with him. Celebrate Recovery believes that this relationship and devotion will give you the strength you need to overcome life’s adversities and discover freedom from the addictions, hurts, and hang-ups in your life.2
How Effective Is It?
Although there have not been many formal research studies conducted on Celebrate Recovery to date, the evidence suggests that 12-step programs in general are an effective treatment for addictions, showing positive outcomes for participants overall.7
One study published in the Journal of Religion and Health examined whether or not spirituality can help a person develop the confidence to remain abstinent. Since self-efficacy is one predictor of drug and alcohol abuse treatment outcomes, researchers looked at whether or not this trait was associated with spirituality in participants in a Celebrate Recovery program.8 The results confirmed an association between spirituality and greater confidence in resisting substance use, and they concluded that spirituality might be an important factor in outcomes for people involved in faith-based 12-step recovery programs like Celebrate Recovery.8
- Celebrate Recovery. (2017). A Christ-Centered Recovery Program.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2017). Jacksonville.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2017). Message from Rick Warren.
- Online Celebrate Recovery. (2017). What to Expect at Your First CR Meeting.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2017). Celebrate Recovery 12 Steps and Biblical Comparisons.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2017). Celebrate Recovery’s Eight Recovery Principles
the Road to Recovery Based on the Beatitudes.
- Moos, R. & Timko, C. (2008). Outcome Research on Twelve-Step and Other Self-Help Programs. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
- Brown, A., Tonigan, J., Pavlik, V., Kosten, T., & Volk, R. (2013). Spirituality and Confidence to Resist Substance Use Among Celebrate Recovery Participants. Journal of Religion and Health, 52, 107–113.