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Group Life

The A.A. Group—the Final Voice of the Fellowship

"Alcoholics Anonymous has been called an upside-down organization because “the ultimate responsibility and final authority for world services resides with the groups—rather than with the trustees, the General Service Board or the General Service Office in New York."
Twelve Concepts For World Service Illustrated

The entire structure of A.A. depends upon the participation and conscience of the individual groups, and how each of these groups conducts its affairs has a ripple effect on A.A. everywhere. Thus, we are ever individually conscious of our responsibility for our own sobriety and, as a group, for carrying the A.A. message to the suffering alcoholic who reaches out to us for help.

A.A. has no central authority, minimal organization, and a handful of Traditions instead of laws. As co-founder Bill W. noted in 1960, “We obey [the Twelve Traditions] willingly because we ought to and because we want to. Perhaps the secret of their power lies in the fact that these life-giving communications spring out of living experience and are rooted in love.”

A.A. is shaped by the collective voice of its local groups and their representatives to the General Service Conference, which works toward unanimity on matters vital to the Fellowship. Each group functions independently, except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

A.A.’s essential group work is done by alcoholics who are themselves recovering in the Fellowship, and each of us is entitled to do our A.A. service in the way we think best within the spirit of the Traditions. This means that we function as a democracy, with all plans for group action approved by the majority voice. No single individual is appointed to act for the group or for Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole.

Each group is as unique as a thumbprint, and approaches to carrying the message of sobriety vary not just from group to group but from region to region. Acting autonomously, each group charts its own course. The better informed the members, the stronger and more cohesive the group—and the greater the assurance that when a newcomer reaches out for help, the hand of A.A. always will be there.

Most of us cannot recover unless there is a group. As Bill said, "Realization dawns on each member that he is but a small part of a great whole. . . . He learns that the clamor of desires and ambitions within him must be silenced whenever these could damage the group. It becomes plain that the group must survive or the individual will not."

The Group... Where A.A.'s Service Structure Begins

What is an A.A. Group?

As the long form of Tradition Three clearly states, "Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation."

Further clarification of an A.A. group may be found in the Twelve Concepts for World Service, Concept Twelve, Warranty Six: no penalties to be inflicted for nonconformity to A.A. principles; no fees or dues to be levied—voluntary contributions only; no member to be expelled from A.A.—membership always to be the choice of the individual; each A.A. group to conduct its internal affairs as it wishes—it being merely requested to abstain from acts that might injure A.A. as a whole; and finally that any group of alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group provided that, as a group, they have no other pur- pose or affiliation. Some A.A.s come together as specialized A.A. groups—for men, women, young people, doctors, gays and others. If the members are all alcoholics, and if they open the door to all alcoholics who seek help, regardless of profession, gender or other distinction, and meet all the other aspects defining an A.A. group, they may call themselves an A.A. group.

Is There a Difference Between a Meeting and a Group?

Most A.A. members meet in A.A. groups as defined by the long form of our Third Tradition. However, some A.A. members hold A.A. meetings that differ from the common understanding of a group. These members simply gather at a set time and place for a meeting, perhaps for convenience or other special situations. The main difference between meetings and groups is that A.A. groups generally continue to exist outside the prescribed meeting hours, ready to provide Twelfth Step help when needed.

A.A. groups are encouraged to register with G.S.O., as well as with their local offices: area, district, intergroup or central office. A.A. meetings can be listed in local meeting lists.

How Do You Become an A.A. Group Member?

"The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking." (Tradition Three) Thus, group membership requires no formal application. Just as we are members of A.A. if we say we are, so are we members of a group if we say we are.

The Difference Between Open and Closed A.A. Meetings

The purpose of all A.A. group meetings, as the Preamble states, is for A.A. members to "share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help oth- ers to recover from alcoholism." Toward this end, A.A. groups have both open and closed meetings.

Closed meetings are for A.A. members only, or for those who have a drinking problem and "have a desire to stop drinking."

Open meetings are available to anyone interested in Alcoholics Anonymous'sp rogram of recovery from alcoholism. Nonalcoholics may attend open meetings as observers.

At both types of meetings, the A.A. chairperson may request that participants confine their discussion to matters pertaining to recovery from alcoholism.

Whether open or closed, A.A. group meetings are conducted by A.A. members who determine the format of their meetings.

What Kinds of Meetings Do A.A. Groups Hold?

"Each group should be autonomous," our Fourth Tradition says, "except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole." So, predictably, each meeting held by our thousands of groups has its own imprint.

The most common kinds of A.A. meetings are:

Discussion (d). Whether closed or open, an A.A. member serving as "leader" or "chair" opens the meeting, using that group's format and selects a topic for discussion.

Background for many topic meetings derives from A.A. literature, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, As Bill Sees It, Daily Reflections, and from the A.A. Grapevine. A few specific topic suggestions may include:

  • Freedom through Sobriety
  • Gratitude
  • Higher Power
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Attitude
  • Defects of Character
  • Fear
  • Making Amends
  • Resentments
  • Sponsorship
  • Surrender
  • Tools of Recovery
  • Tolerance
  • Willingness
  • Speaker (s). One or more members selected beforehand "share," as described in the Big Book, telling what they were like, what happened and what they are like now.

    Depending upon the group conscience for general guidelines, some groups prefer that members who speak have a minimum period of continuous sobriety. Speaker meetings often are "open" meetings.

    Beginners. Usually led by a group member who has been sober awhile, these are often question-and-answer sessions to help newcomers. Beginners meetings may also follow a discussion format, or focus on Steps One, Two, and Three. (A Guide for Leading Beginners Meetings is available from G.S.O.)

    Step, Tradition or Big Book (bb). Because the Twelve Steps are the foundation of personal recovery in A.A., many groups devote one or more meetings a week to the study of each Step in rotation; some discuss two or three Steps at a time. These same formats may be applied to group meetings on the Big Book or the Twelve Traditions. Many groups make it a practice to read aloud pertinent material from the Big Book or Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions at the beginning of the meeting.

    In addition to the meetings described above, groups also hold the following kinds of meetings:

    Business. Some groups schedule special sessions throughout the year, apart from regular meetings, for reports from group officers to discuss group affairs and obtain group guidance. Group officers usually are elected at such meetings.

    Group Inventory. These are meetings at which members work toward understanding how well the group is fulfilling its primary purpose.

    Service. These are general information meetings about service; they may also function as a forum for delegate reports or other communications.

    A.A. Grapevine/La Viña. These are meetings where A.A. topics from the A.A. Grapevine or La Viña may be discussed.

    Suggested A.A. Meeting Procedures

    No one type or format is the best for an A.A. meeting, but some work better than others.

    The chairperson usually opens the meeting with the A.A. Preamble and a few remarks. Some call for a moment of silence and/or recite the Serenity Prayer. Others have a reading from the Big Book—frequently a portion of Chapter 5 "How It Works" or Chapter 3 "More About Alcoholism". At many group meetings, a chapter, or a part of a chapter, from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is read aloud. Having different members or visiting A.A.s do the reading helps newcomers especially to feel they are sharing in group life.

    The chairperson may stress the importance of preserving the anonymity of A.A. members outside the meeting room and further caution attendees to "leave any confidences you hear in these rooms behind when you go." (Wallet cards and a display placard on the subject, as well as the pamphlet "Understanding Anonymity" are available from G.S.O.)

    Many meetings close with members joining in a moment of silence followed by a prayer, or perhaps by reciting the Responsibility Declaration or other A.A. text.

    The A.A. Home Group

    Traditionally, most A.A. members through the years have found it important to belong to one group which they call their "Home Group." This is the group where they accept service responsibilities and try to sustain friendships. And although all A.A. members are usually welcome at all groups and feel at home at any of these meetings, the concept of the "Home Group" has still remained the strongest bond between the A.A. member and the Fellowship.

    With membership comes the right to vote upon issues that might affect the group and might also affect A.A. as a whole—a process that forms the very cornerstone of A.A.'s service structure. As with all group-conscience matters, each A.A. member has one vote; and this, ideally, is voiced through the home group.

    Over the years, the very essence of A.A. strength has remained with our home group, which, for many members, becomes our extended family. Once isolated by our drinking, we find in the home group a solid, continuing support system, friends and, very often, a sponsor. We also learn firsthand, through the group's workings, how to place "principles before personalities" in the interest of carrying the A.A. message.

    Talking about her own group, a member says: "Part of my commitment is to show up at my home group meetings, greet newcomers at the door, and be available to them—not only for them but for me. My fellow group members are the people who know me, listen to me, and steer me straight when I am off in left field. They give me their experience, strength and A.A. love, enabling me to "pass it on to the alcoholic who still suffers."

    Self-support: The Seventh Tradition

    There are no dues or fees for membership in A.A., but we do have expenses such as rent, refreshments, A.A. Conference-approved literature, meeting lists and contributions to services provided by the local intergroup (central office), district and area, and the General Service Office of A.A. In keeping with the Seventh Tradition a group may "pass the basket" for contributions, and members are encouraged to participate.

    Coffee, Tea and Fellowship

    Many A.A. members report that their circle of A.A. friends has widened greatly as the result of coffee and conversation before and after meetings.

    Most groups depend upon their members to prepare for each meeting, serve the refreshments, and clean up afterward. You often hear A.A. members say that they first felt "like members" when they began making coffee, helping with the chairs, or cleaning the coffeepot. Some newcomers find that such activity relieves their shyness and makes it easier to meet and talk to other members.

    The contents of this page is a section the of pamphlet "The A.A. Group:Where It All Begins". © A.A. World Services, Inc.

    Further Reading

    For more information about AA Groups, download the following pamphlets:

    AA Fact File
    AA Fact File
    The A.A. Group
    The A.A. Group
    The G.S.R.
    The G.S.R.