Recovery Ministries – Effective, But Difficult to Grow

Post a Comment » Written on November 10th, 2008     
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CHICAGO, IL (November 10, 2008) – Evangelical Covenant Church congregations increasingly are adding recovery ministries and witnessing changes in the lives of individuals, but some report they are finding the ministries difficult to grow.

Perhaps the best known—Alcoholics Anonymous, the first of the Twelve-Step groups—was influenced by the Christian Oxford Movement. However, churches often have been wary of such organizations, in part, because they do not name the “higher power” to which their material refers. By contrast, newer “Christian” programs name Jesus as the “higher power.”

Some churches use material from the National Association of Christian Recovery, which has recovery-related materials on its website.

However, the most popular of these programs is Celebrate Recovery (CR), pioneered by Saddleback Church where Rick Warren is pastor. The program includes a weekly time of worship. Participants then break into small groups related to their “hurts, habits, or hang-ups.” Because building relationships is key to recovery, meals or desserts generally are served following the meeting.

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

An attendee 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.”

Mission Covenant Church in Poplar, Wisconsin, also uses CR. James Walsh, who oversees the CR group, says his church was “very welcoming” to the idea of starting the ministry. A sermon series “Road to Recovery,” which emphasized that the Twelve Steps are for everyone, prepared the congregation for the ministry. As a result, one couple became members of the congregation and moved closer to the church because they wanted to be more available to do ministry.

The Evangelical Covenant Church in South Bend, Indiana, started a ministry “based on” CR last December, says Pastor Kevin Brintnall. A donor helped fund the starting costs. Several members of the church attended a CR Summit at Saddleback last August and decided to start a similar ministry. If followed to the letter, the program can be labor-intensive, and Brintnall’s church did not have enough people to commit the required time.

Skip Benz leads a men’s Bible study at Good Samaritan Covenant Church in Valley Springs, California, which employs the Twelve Step principles. Another recovery group at the church uses The Twelve Steps – A Spiritual Journey. A sober alcoholic for 27 years, Benz started attending the church when friends he met in recovery told him the church was welcoming.

Despite the power the groups have to change lives, the churches say they have struggled to grow the ministries. Peninsula Covenant has an average attendance of more than 1,000 people in its worship services, but has 15 to 20 people who attend the recovery group. Kent Covenant Church has an average attendance of roughly 700 people at its weekly worship services, but roughly 11 to 15 people at its CR meetings. Smaller churches say they have a regular attendance of five to 10 people at the recovery meetings.

What makes the groups beneficial also can keep people away, leaders say. Between 50 and 75 percent of the attendees come from outside the churches, they note.

The vulnerability required for growth is hard for a lot of people, says Dave Enderby, who oversees the Peninsula ministry. “People can be brutally honest. They are just some of the most honest, open, authentic people you will find.”

Even though the groups emphasize confidentiality, church members often feel uncomfortable if others in the congregation know too much about them. Leaders also say stigma keeps people away. They don’t want to be recognized as one of “those people.”

“We need a new definition of ‘recovery,” Enderby says. “We’re all being reformed.”

He refers to the Willow Creek Church REVEAL study that suggests many of the people who contributed to the huge numerical growth of the congregation stopped growing spiritually as individuals. “The hang-ups create a barrier,” he says.

Still, the churches continue to offer the ministries because they have seen the difference the groups make in breaking through the barriers. As one participant wrote, “I am alive and back with the Lord.”

In addition to the programs mentioned in this story, other websites that can serve as resources on Christian recovery include: Recovery University, Christian Recovery International, and RPI Publishing.

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