Church Recovery Programs Effective, but Hard to Grow

An evangelical denomination reports that its churches are increasingly adding recovery ministries to their service list that are effectively changing lives. But the problem is these programs are difficult to grow.

Based off of Alcoholic Anonymous, many Evangelical Covenant Church congregations have adopted the program Celebrate Recovery (CR), pioneered by Saddleback Church where Rick Warren is the senior pastor, to help alcoholics quit their addiction through a Christian-centered program based on the teachings of Jesus.

CR includes a weekly time of worship and participants share in small groups their "hurts, habits, or hang-ups." An important part of the program is building relationships so participants often have fellowship meals and dessert together after the meeting.

Across the country, covenant churches using the CR program have reported great change in their participants.

Pastor Gary Gaddini of Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, Calif, which began CR five years ago, wrote in a newsletter last year, "I can testify that some of the most supernatural transformation in all of Peninsula Covenant Church happens because of this ministry."

Meanwhile, a participant wrote, "I've learned that God does love me, and I am not alone in my world of character defects. Celebrate Recovery has brought me closer to my husband, my God, and my family."

Other Covenant churches using CR and other recovery ministries have also reported people moving closer to the church because of the program.

However, despite the ability of the ministry to change lives, churches say they struggle to add numbers to the recovery group.

Peninsula Covenant, which has an average attendance of more than 1,000 people in its worship services, has only 15 to 20 people who attend the recovery group.

Meanwhile, Kent Covenant Church in Washington has an average attendance of some 700 people, but only 11 to 15 people attend its CR meetings.

Church leaders say that from 50 to 75 percent of the participants of the recovery program come from outside the churches.

Many church members that struggle with alcoholism often feel uncomfortable opening up to others in the congregation about their problems, the leaders explained, even though the groups emphasize confidentiality.

Leaders commented that stigma keeps church members away from the program; they don't want to be seen as one of "those people."

The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is an evangelical Christian denomination of more than 750 congregations in the United States and Canada. It is among one of the most rapidly growing and multi-ethnic denominations in North America. Historically, it traces its theology and background back to Lutheranism.