AA Alternatives: Celebrate Recovery and Bringing God Into Your Recovery
In 1991, Pastors Rick Warren and John Baker founded Celebrate Recovery, offering a recovery program to treat addictive, compulsive, and dysfunctional behavior. Warren and Baker took from the Beatitudes in the Bible and wrote the Eight Principles the program. Celebrate Recovery uses a Christian Recovery approach.1 Often, it is most effective when combined with professional treatment.
Celebrate Recovery vs. Alcoholics Anonymous
Both Celebrate Recovery (CR) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are 12-step programs. Both programs hold peer-led meetings and encourage peer mentorship, and both programs are based on spirituality. However, CR focuses on each participant’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ as an aspect of their recovery.
AA was founded in 1939 with the original intent to address alcohol addiction alone.2 However, the 12 Steps of AA have become the foundation for many other 12-step programs, including Celebrate Recovery. Twelve-step programs are now available for chemical dependency, family support, and “behavioral addictions,” as well as other purposes.
While Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on Christian principles, it is intended for people of all religions and belief systems. The AA concept of a “higher power” accommodates any being or idea that is greater than oneself. Celebrate Recovery is solely a Christian Recovery program.
The pillars of Alcoholics Anonymous are working the 12 Steps—optionally with the guidance of a sponsor—and attending the AA meeting types that feel most useful to you. Celebrate Recovery combines the Eight Principles and 12 Steps along with sponsorship and three types of group meetings.3
Eight Principles of Celebrate Recovery
The Celebrate Recovery founders referenced the beatitudes of the Bible to write eight principles. Each of these correlates with one or more of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.1,2
The first principle of CR is, “Realize I’m not God; I admit I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.”
The first CR principle correlates with Step 1 of AA: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
“Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.”
This principle correlates to Step 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
The third CR principle requires each to choose to “Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.”
This concept corresponds with Step 3 of AA: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
To take action on this principle, “Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.”
The wording of this principle is almost identical to a combination of Steps 4 and 5.
- Step 4—Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Step 5— Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Principle 5 states: “Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.”
Principle 5 does not share as much wording with the corresponding steps as Principle 4, but is also closely tied with 2 of the 12 Steps of AA:
- Step 6—Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Step 7—Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
In Principle 6 you commit to, “Evaluate all my relationships; offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me, and make amends for harm I’ve done to others except when to do so would harm them or others.”
This is similar to the two-step process in Steps 8 and 9 of AA:
- Step 8— Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Step 9— Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
CR requires that members commit to “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 commitment correlates to Steps 10 and 11 in AA:
- Step 10— Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Step 11— Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
The final CR principle declares that you: “Yield myself to be used to bring this Good New to others, both by my example and by my words.”
This is also a core principle of AA captured in Step 12: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Hurts, Habits, and Hang-Ups
Celebrate Recovery meetings are centered around helping you cope more effectively with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” Group meeting leaders are trained from the CR Leadership curriculum, but are also there working through their own challenges. The only difference is that they’ve moved through some of their darkness and can now lead and offer their testimony to other group members.1, 4
Celebrate Recovery offers peer support for more personal issues than just addiction, in the following categories.
Examples of what would be considered a “hurt” include:
- Childhood trauma
- Family dysfunction
- Abuse or intimate partner violence
- Experiences of racism
A “hang-up” is a belief or negative emotion that may have developed about yourself or others as the result of the hurt in your life. Examples of hang-ups are:
- Having a hard time trusting people
- Believing you’re not good enough
- Feeling you’ll never measure up
- Re-occurring negative thoughts
These hang-ups may be categorized as cognitive distortions like toxic shame or black-and-white thinking by a trained mental health professional. Cognitive distortions are commonly linked with compulsive behaviors and addiction.
“Habits” are addictions and behaviors, and often develop as coping mechanisms used to deal with hurts or hang-ups. Examples of habits are:
- Drug addiction
- Alcohol addiction
- Anger issues
- Compulsive sexual or relationship behaviors
- Gambling addiction
- Compulsive shopping
- Disordered eating behaviors
Celebrate Recovery Meetings
Celebrate Recovery holds three primary meeting types, or doors that members can enter through.
Door 1: Large Group Meetings
Large group meetings take place on what is known as a general meeting night, which starts with a meal. The meals are offered either weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on your demographic and the CR presence in your area. General meeting night is also an opportunity for fellowship with other members.
Large group meetings are an introduction for newcomers and an opportunity to find a sponsor. After the meal, the meeting begins. This meeting starts with worship, which consists of singing hymns.
Following worship, you will hear either a testimony or a CR lesson. Testimonies are from people in the program who have found healing from their hurts, hang-ups, and habits through CR. Each of the lessons is connected to the Eight Principles and 12 Steps.1, 4
Door 2: Open Share Groups
After large group meetings end, members go directly into the open share groups. These occur on the same night as the large group meeting and are gender– and recovery-specific. For example, men who struggle with co-dependency meet in one group, and women who struggle with co-dependency meet in another group.
Open share groups get their name because they don’t ever close to new members or new discussion. You do not have to sign-up and, regardless of when the meeting started, you’re free to join the group. The other reason these are called open share groups is that you’re free to share whatever is in your heart.1, 4
After open share groups, depending on the set-up of the local CR ministry, what’s known as a solid rock café may be held. This socially focused gathering is another way for people to get to know each other and another opportunity for newcomers to find a sponsor or accountability partner.1, 4
Door 3: Step Study Groups
Step study groups usually meet on a different night of the week than the general meeting night. They are two hours long and are meant to help CR members go deeper into their recovery.
Step study groups are also gender-specific; however, members with different recovery goals meet together. CR founders view this as important because it allows members to hear other perspectives and learn from them. It also allows members to possibly discover other issues in their lives that need to be addressed.
In the step study groups, members go through the CR participant guides. This is a workbook that allows for a deeper dive into recovery while keeping the group focused on a particular question. The workbooks include Bible verses and prayers. The step study group curriculum usually takes about one year to complete if you attend regularly.1, 4
Celebrate Recovery Group Guidelines
Five guidelines help make Celebrate Recovery groups safe and ensure that members can share without being judged, fixed, talked over, or talked about outside of the group.1
- Keep your sharing focused on your own thoughts and feelings. Limit your sharing to three to five minutes.
- There is no cross-talk. Cross talk is when two individuals engage in conversation excluding all others. Each person is free to express their feelings without interruptions.
- We are here to support one another, not “fix” another.
- Anonymity and confidentiality are basic requirements. What is shared in the group stays in the group. The only exception is when someone threatens to injure themselves or others—this is dealt with by the group leader.
- Offensive language has no place in a Christ-centered recovery group.
Celebrate Recovery Resources
You can find a Celebrate Recovery meeting in your area using the meeting finder on the official website. You can also use the site to connect with your state CR representative about starting a CR ministry in your local church.6
To learn more about Celebrate Recovery, you can use their official resource directory and store to find books, guided journals, the CR podcast, and workbooks.7 CR also has a Facebook page, YouTube channel, and Instagram account.
Many individuals use CR to add the meaningful, Christ-centered element they may feel is missing to the evidence-based treatment plan created by their addiction recovery program or therapist. CR or another spiritual peer support group may provide a social and deeply personal connection to help you in your recovery journey. Your treatment team may help you find another peer support group if CR does not perfectly match your needs, such as SMART Recovery, HAMS, LifeRing, and SOS.
- Celebrate Recovery Books. (2006). Celebrate Recovery: A Recovery Program Based On Eight Principles From The Beatitudes [Information Packet].
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2021). The 12 Steps.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2018). Celebrate Recovery: About.
- Earle, C. (2016, July 02). Reason To Celebrate Recovery Meeting Times, Sites: Celebrate Recovery Aims Not Only To Help People Recover But Also To Help Them Heal. LNP, Lancaster, Pa., B1.
- Schertz, M. (2015, June 30). The Sermon On The Mount: Living It Out In Mind And Heart. Canadian Mennonite, 19(14), 1–4.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2018). Find a Celebrate Recovery Group and State Rep.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2018). Resources.