The Rushmore Report: Celebrate Recovery Turns 25

If you’ve heard a sermon, small group discussion, Sunday school lesson, or testimony that addressed one of those once-taboo topics – alcoholism, drug abuse, anger issues, porn habits – you probably have Celebrate Recovery to thank. “It used to be if someone was an alcoholic or a drug addict, it was hush-hush,” said Huston McComb, leader of CR at Houston’s First Baptist Church. “We’ve kind of taken that stigma away,” he says.

While some of the shame around addiction has faded over the decades, Celebrate Recovery has shifted how evangelicals in particular view “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” The ministry hosts regular meetings at 29,000 churches and has trained more than 100,000 pastors in the recovery process.

Its annual summit last weekend marked 25 years since John Baker founded the program at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, immediately following his own journey to sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous. Like many evangelicals at the time, he had reservations about the generic spirituality of AA, whose 12-step program refers to “a Power greater than ourselves” and “God as we understand him.”

Baker saw a need to create a support system rooted in gospel teachings. “In my men’s small group I couldn’t talk about my struggle, and at AA, I couldn’t talk about my Savior.” So Baker proposed the program – with its own version of the 12 steps, each one paired with a teaching from Scripture – in a 13-page letter to Warren back in 1991. From there, Celebrate Recovery as been replicated across denominations, countries, and demographics, beyond what Baker ever imagined.

About a third of the people who attend Celebrate Recovery come for issues with drugs or alcohol. Most struggle with something else. Recently, CR has begun to focus more on “dual diagnosis,” the interplay between multiple issues. New initiatives have been launched, with a focus on military service members and healing for those coming out of sexual exploitation.

Baker says, “The truth is, you’d be hard pressed to find someone in any church whose life, marriage, or faith isn’t hindered by some kind of habit, hang-up, or past hurt. We need to start talking about these very common struggles much more. It’s not enough to just condemn pornography (or whatever else) from the pulpit. You need to help those ensnared by it, give people a better way. Celebrate Recovery does that.”

For more information on Celebrate Recovery, visit their website at

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