I’ve said this over and over again at Saddleback.
Out of the 200 ministries we have at our church, Celebrate Recovery® is my favorite.
CR is all about changed lives—and that’s the biggest thrill of my life. If you want to know what makes Rick Warren tick, it’s pretty simple: changed lives.
All I need to do is hear one story of a life changed—a marriage saved, a teen who gets off drugs, or someone liberated from codependency—and I’m good for another month.
Changed lives keep me going.
I’ve never been around a ministry that sees so many lives changed by Christ as Celebrate Recovery. It’s a life-change machine—and I love it!
I know that God didn’t design the church to be a hotel for saints. He designed it to be a hospital for sinners. Your church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry demonstrates this on a weekly basis.
But if your Celebrate Recovery ministry is going to be a hospital for sinners and an incubator for changed lives, it needs to be a place where guests feel comfortable to attend.
Think about the first time you showed up at Celebrate Recovery. It was likely a big step. You probably weren’t sure what to expect. You may have been afraid to be put on the spot. You may have feared talking about the issues that brought you there.
Some of those fears, you can’t do anything about. Even if they’re unfounded, people will walk into your ministry with them.
So you want to do everything you can to minimize their other concerns.
But it takes maturity for your longtime attendees to be considerate of the needs, fears, and hang-ups of unbelievers—and to be willing to place those needs before their own.
Every ministry experiences a constant tension between “service” and “serve-us.” Most ministries end up tipping the scales toward meeting the needs of the people already there. Those are the people who are serving in your ministry already. They’re the ones you talk to on a regular basis. You likely know their needs much more fully than you know the needs of people who haven’t yet stepped foot in your ministry.
But if you want to see God change lives through your ministry, you must intentionally tip the scales the other way, toward the guest. It requires members who are willing to create a safe environment for unbelievers at the expense of their own preferences, traditions, and comfort. It requires enormous spiritual maturity to voluntarily move out of a comfort zone.
But it’s what Jesus modeled throughout his ministry. He once said, “Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28 TLB). Until this attitude of unselfish servanthood permeates the minds and hearts of your Celebrate Recovery ministry, you won’t consistently reach new people.
One great way to start is by making your ministry convenient for guests to attend. Americans are conditioned to expect things to be convenient. Your goal should be to remove as many barriers as possible so that when guests show up, they can focus on finding freedom from their hurts, hang-ups, and habits—not unnecessary stresses associated with your ministry.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Make parking a priority.
I tell pastors this all the time: In America, it takes parking to reach people. Visitors notice parking and traffic before anything else. When they go to a mall, they don’t want to spend lots of time searching for a parking spot. When Americans come to your ministry, they like to bring their cars! If you don’t have a place for their car, you don’t have a place for them. It doesn’t matter how many chairs you’ve set up—if you don’t have enough parking, you won’t fill up those seats.
By the way, it’s not just about how much parking you have either. Give your guests the best spots. Encourage your longtime participants to park farther away to leave the prime parking locations for first-time folks. Like I mentioned earlier, this takes maturity from your longtime participants, but it’s a really important step.
2. Offer something for children.
Guests who come to your church for Celebrate Recovery do not want to talk about the topics they need to discuss at CR in front of their children. Plus, they don’t want to deal with all the squirming—from their kids or others’ kids.
That’s one reason I love the Celebration Place™ curriculum. It’s a great opportunity to create a place where kids can build an amazing foundation for a lifetime of spiritual growth.
3. Always make it easy to get directions.
Wherever you promote your Celebrate Recovery ministry, either include a map or link to directions to your location. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to find a place for the first time without any help.
4. Play music in the background when people come into the room.
Silence can be scary. That’s why public buildings play music in the background. You’ll usually hear it in grocery stores, doctor offices, and professional buildings. Music relaxes people. When people walk into your Celebrate Recovery ministry for the first time, you want them to be relaxed. Music will help.
5. Call people guests, not visitors.
Visitors aren’t in your ministry to stay. Guests are people you’ll go out of your way to make comfortable.
6. Make sure your restrooms are well-marked.
Everyone will need to use the restroom at some point. Make sure your guests can find them. Put signs throughout the building. If you hand out printed information when guests arrive, include directions to the restrooms on it.
7. Greet people as they arrive.
People like to be greeted personally. Enlist some people in your ministry who project warmth and smile often to welcome folks when they arrive. People will already be nervous as they step into their first Celebrate Recovery meeting. Make sure the first face they see has a smile on it.
Like I said before, changed lives make me tick. It’s what I love about Celebrate Recovery. I hope changed lives mean as much to you as they do to me. You have an opportunity to see them every single week at CR.
So treat your guests well—and see what God does in their lives as you show them the love of Jesus.