August 1991

It all started with a letter from John Baker to Pastor Rick Warren.

A thirteen page, single spaced, double sided letter described how God provided healing in one man’s life, and how he wanted to share the Principles of recovery with others. The aim was to bring healing and restoration to individuals and families whose lives had been fractured by hurts, hang-ups, and habits.

This letter is where the Celebrate Recovery journey began!

How it started

Celebrate Recovery started in 1991 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. At that time, the church was meeting at a high school gymnasium. John Baker wrote Pastor Rick Warren the “now-famous, concise, 13-page, single-spaced” letter outlining the vision God had given John for Celebrate Recovery. After reading John’s letter, Pastor Rick said, “Great, John — go do it!”

November 1991

A week after receiving the letter, Pastor Rick & John Baker met up and Rick urged John to start this new ministry by saying “You do it!”

The name “Celebrate Recovery” came to John during a reflective drive in his car, and just three months after John Baker shared his heart to start Celebrate Recovery, the first meeting took place in November 1991. At the time, Saddleback Church didn’t have a building, so the meeting took place at the Charter Hospital in Mission Viejo, CA.

Mid 1990’s

As the Celebrate Recovery ministry was continuing to grow, there was a need to provide resources to CR participants. The Participant’s Guide: Step Study was self-published in 1994, and distributed from the Baker’s garage!

The influence of tis life-changing ministry grew, and 1995 marked the year where other churches began a Celebrate Recovery ministry for their congregation and community.

Late 1990’s

In 1998, through an unforeseen encounter with a retired prison warden in New Mexico, Pastor John discovered that the Celebrate Recovery model was being used in a local prison. He visited that program eight times over the course of a year.

Prison ministry came to be a very responsive place for the Celebrate Recovery principles as many incarcerated people are looking for healing from their hurts, hang-ups, and habits. Celebrate Recovery is now integrated into 42 state prison systems, not just in the United States, but worldwide!

The 2000’s

With churches around the country hungry to learn more about CR, the Celebrate Recovery Summit was formed, hosted at Saddleback and grew each year, beginning with 73 attendees in 1999.

Since that time, it has expanded to include two Summits per year, as well as offering over fifteen “One-Day Seminars” throughout the year with over 37,000 churches worldwide having gone through the program.

Mid 2010’s

In 2014-15, three of Pastor John Baker’s grandchildren – Maggie, Chloe, and Jimmy – decided to be baptized at the Celebrate Recovery Summits at Saddleback Church.

Pastor John & Cheryl witnessed their grandchildren truly “breaking the cycle of addiction and dysfunction in their family.”

This was something pastor John longed for taking him as far back as when he wrote to Pastor Rick in his 13 page letter back in 1991.

Late 2010’s

After decades of experience providing hope for the hurting, Celebrate Recovery recognized a need for specific ministries and initiatives to meet the needs of people coming from difference ages, life experience, and backgrounds.

In 2015, Celebration Place & The Landing. Celebrate Recovery’s youth programs were launched as “pre-covery” programs to partner with parents to help break the cycle of dysfunction destroying so many families.

Welcome Home, a ministry led by veterans, for veterans stuck in hurts, hang-ups, and habits.

Native Nations was launched to bring the gospel to the over 500 sovereign people with the borders of the USA, who are faced with staggering rates of alcoholism, abuse, poverty, and suicide.

In 2018, Cultural Communities was launched to ensure individuals and families from under represented backgrounds are familiar with and embrace this Christ centered recovery program.

February 2021

On February 23rd, Pastor John Baker, co-founder of Celebrate Recovery made his way Home to Jesus. He touched so many people with the healing power and grace of Jesus Christ - and encouraged us to do the same.

As a part of Pastor John Baker’s vision for the future of CR, almost a decade prior to his passing, he had begun preparing and shepherding Johnny Baker to succeed him and carry on the legacy of Celebrate Recovery.


March 2021

On March of 2021, after the sudden passing of his dad, under the blessing and endorsement of Pastor Rick Warren, the elders of Saddleback Church, and the CR team, Pastor Johnny Baker accepted and agreed to step into the CR lead pastor role where he would share in leadership of the ministry alongside his wife Jeni as Co-Executive Global directors of CR. 

Together, alongside their strong global team and an army of volunteers, they agreed to lead and carry on the CR movement that was started 30 plus years ago by Pastor John and Cheryl Baker.

God is doing exciting things by expanding the territory of this amazing ministry to reach more hurting people across the globe. We are excited to see what God does in this next chapter.