What Are Christian 12-Step Programs?
Christian 12-step programs are support groups that integrate your Christian faith into the hard work of your addiction recovery.
In 1938, the 12 steps of “Alcoholics Anonymous” were created by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. These non-sectarian steps are used to promote recovery in the context of a supportive community with fellow addiction sufferers.
Millions and millions of people have graduated from these Christian 12-step programs as they pursue lasting sobriety.
- Christian 12-step programs integrate your faith into your recovery process.
- “Christian” vs. “Spiritual”: One is aligned with a specific group of faith, primarily based on the Bible. The other acknowledges a higher power but has no specific attachments.
- Examples of Christian 12-step programs include several local treatment centers, including Recovery Unplugged.
Many Christian 12-step programs are unambiguously “Christian.”
They espouse specific Scriptural doctrine as the basis for the 12 steps and are hosted in the space of a church community. Their culture, vocabulary, and traditions are derived from the denominational traditions of the hosting community. While it is rarely discussed in the context of a 12-step meeting, these Christian communities hold strong positions on eternal salvation and the existence of heaven/hell.
Other 12-step programs are spiritual but not explicitly Christian. They have important literature, but it’s not the Bible. They admit the presence of a higher power, but they don’t assign it to any particular religion. Their culture, vocabulary, and traditions are decidedly non-sectarian. They take no position on eternal salvation or the existence of heaven/hell.
The 12-step framework is often met with two vastly different views, those who embrace it as is and those who take it a step further into deeper faith-based leanings. Both paths are built on the same framework and can be equally effective.
Embracers usually come from progressive faith communities who generally have little problem embracing both “spiritual” and “Christian” 12-step programs. They don’t chafe at the lack of explicit Scriptural doctrine in spiritual 12-step programs or bristle at the presence of explicit Scriptural doctrine in Christian 12-step programs.
They view mental health and substance use disorders as a disease rather than moral failure.
Much like the Biblical book of Esther, which never mentions God by name, embracers view spiritual 12-step programs as Christ working in secret. He may not be seen, but his fingerprints are everywhere.
Adapters usually come from evangelical faith communities who are concerned by the lack of explicit Scriptural basis but appreciate the evidence-based outcomes and structure of the 12 steps.
Like embracers, they also view mental health and substance use disorders as a disease rather than a moral failure. Adapters reinterpret the steps in light of the Bible and use Scripture to justify completing the steps. 12-step Christianity incorporates many programs that fall into this category.
Here are some 12 step programs for Christians. They contain both embracers and adapters of the original 12-step programs:
Christian-12 Step is an explicitly Christ-centered version of the 12-step program, which does recovery coaching, small groups, and a jail/prison ministry for anyone struggling with dependencies or emotional struggles.
It’s very similar to the AA program, but it explicitly identifies Jesus as our “Higher Power.” It also includes Bible study, prayer, fasting, and church fellowship.
Recovery Church Movement is a church planting network. It’s a church gathering that feels like an AA meeting.
As it’s a church, it does have common doctrines, values, and beliefs among members. But, its membership consists of people early in their faith journey who are simultaneously early in their sobriety journey as well. It’s a healing ground for people who want to get well.
The ultimate discipleship model of Recovery Church is to be “born again” (an adaptation of the “spiritual awakening” of the 12-step model).
John Baker, the founder of Celebrate Recovery, used to be a functioning alcoholic. When he hit rock bottom, he started attending AA meetings and found hope in God’s unconditional love.
But, there was tension. He said, “In my small church group, I couldn’t talk about my struggle. And at AA, I couldn’t talk about my Savior.”
So, in 1991, at a high school gymnasium attended by 43 people, he began the ministry of “Celebrate Recovery.”
This ministry of Saddleback Church has graduated 27,000 people from just their church alone. Over 35,000 churches in all 50 states have hosted the program in their locales, which has helped millions of people.
This Christian 12-step small group program is the only explicitly Christian non-profit for sexual brokenness and betrayal trauma. Over 8,000 men and women have been served by this program, and there are 17 groups with 450 members meeting regularly.
It’s free, mentor-led, and offers the options of mens-only groups, womens-only groups, or couples groups.
Launched in 2013, this explicitly Christian 12-step discipling program offers freedom from any type of addiction or struggle. It’s part of the vision of Watermark church.
It provides daily, structured opportunities for people to grow in their relationship with God and others. Hosting churches may or may not offer childcare.
Life Recovery Groups is an explicitly Christian 12-step program that can be found in almost every state in the United States and all around the world.
Unlike other Christian 12-step program approaches that mandate the specifics (how/where) their recovery ministry can be employed, Life Recovery Groups brings explicitly Christian recovery to you – right where you are.
These are the original 12-step groups, founded in 1935 and 1953 respectively.
They are the creation of Bill Wilson and Bob Smith and have helped millions of people recover from their addictions. Both men were part of the Christian organization called the Oxford Group, whose founder believed people needed to surrender their lives to God.
While much of the literature on AA and NA remains spiritualized, the groups are now thoroughly secular. There are no scriptures, doctrines, or spiritual traditions.
 Shellnutt, K. (2021, February 24). Died: Celebrate recovery founder John Baker, who shifted evangelicals’ approach to addiction. News & Reporting. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/february/died-celebrate-recovery-founder-john-baker-saddleback-churc.html