Starting a new AA group
Before you begin: a question for you?
The following information suggests factors you might consider when deciding whether to start a new AA group. Some of the information may also be useful when a group is discussing starting an additional meeting. In some circumstances it may be preferable for existing groups to consider having more meetings rather than starting a new group, with all this entails.
Further information can be found in The Group section of The AA Structure Handbook for Great Britain.
If you consider starting a new group, bear in mind that any AA group should be inclusive of everyone with a desire to stop drinking. The long form of Traditions 3 & 4 have these words to say on groups in AA:
Tradition Three (Long Form): Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
Tradition Four (Long Form): With respect to its own affairs, each AA group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience. But when its plans concern the welfare of neighbouring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect AA as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.
Have you sufficient length and strength of sobriety? Do you have the ability to take on the task, even with the help of others? Bear in mind that your own recovery is a priority and that Tradition 1 reminds us that personal recovery depends on AA Unity.
Why do you want to start a new AA group?
Clearly the first reason must be to further our primary purpose of carrying our message to the alcoholic who still suffers, as stated in Tradition Five. In addition, there may be specific local needs and setting up a new group to meet one or more of them would further our primary purpose.
When looking at the local provision of meetings it is worth considering what neighbouring intergroups are offering. This might avoid unforeseen duplication.
What type of group would it be?
Are you planning to start a group, which meets once a week or more often? Would its meetings be open, closed or a mixture of both? As well as sharing experience strength and hope, would members study the Big Book, Steps or Traditions at the meeting?
Would it be set-up to attract any alcoholic, or only a certain section of the Fellowship as mentioned above. Please note, in keeping with Tradition Three, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are non-restrictive, and therefore any groups that are not open to ALL alcoholics cannot be registered with the General Service Office.
Please bear in mind that a group's name ought not to contain that of a specific person, nor imply any affiliation with an outside body, including that of the hosting venue. It is worth remembering that a group cannot belong to any individual, as an AA group it is subject to the group conscience of all its members.
When would the group meet?
Depending on the area, it may be useful to find a time and day when there is currently a gap in the availability of meetings. Look for any problems with the possible time, for instance those relating to public transport, traffic conditions, hours that the venue is open, overlap with other meetings etc.
Where would the new group's meeting be held?
Is there a suitable and affordable venue for a meeting in the area and at the time you choose? See 'Venue' below for things to consider when choosing a meeting place. It is assumed that the new group is not being started in a treatment centre, detox unit, prison etc. Information about such groups may be found in the relevant service area's literature.
Who would attend the new meeting?
The group should be set up to attract those who have a desire to stop drinking and not those with other problems. If the group attracts only existing members to its meetings it will not be furthering its primary purpose. In order to attract newcomers, AA experience has found that it is useful to ensure that the local community is made aware of the new AA group in the area, in the hope of attracting the alcoholic who still suffers.
One of the first considerations is whether there will be enough people with sufficient sobriety to fill the key posts as officers from the outset and to get the meeting up and running. It would be worth asking some individuals with sufficient and strong sobriety whether they are interested in helping you to set up the group. If there is little or no support, you might wish to reconsider your idea.
It is suggested that an attempt is made to estimate the numbers of people who might attend, and so contribute to the pot. This will be important information when you look at the size of possible rooms and the rent payable for them. Some people, when considering starting a new group, attend a number of local meetings and ask whether any members might also attend the new group, if available.
You should be aware that, as mentioned earlier, AA's General Service Office (GSO) will not register and list groups which place restrictions on any alcoholic's attendance, in keeping with Tradition Three. For example, women-only groups would not be registered.
The next steps
Although each group is autonomous, it is helpful to advise your Intergroup that you are starting a new group, and assign a GSR from your group to attend Intergroup meetings. It might be a good idea to let them know the proposed timing and venue of the group's meeting, and what type of group it will be. This is because it is hoped that all groups will play an active role in their intergroup so it is preferable to work with the Intergroup from the start. There may also be immediate benefits, e.g. the Intergroup might offer public liability insurance cover for all its groups, and details of the group's meeting(s) will appear in the local 'Where to Find' and on the AA website.
AA experience has found it helpful to draw up a working budget to estimate the costs of starting up a group. The members involved in the group will have to find the money for the initial rent, the purchase of some materials, literature, refreshments and other start-up costs. Subject to the Group Conscience, it is reasonable for these initial expenses to be repaid to the individuals from the group's pot revenue, perhaps over a period of time if /when the pot income allows.
The new group will need to let people know that it exists, whilst bearing in mind Tradition Eleven. Alongside ensuring it is included in the Intergroup and National meeting location lists such as the intergroup 'Where to Find' and the AA web site Meeting Finder, it might be worth placing information notices about the meeting in local magazines and on appropriate notice-boards in churches, surgeries, libraries, hospitals, shops and other places in the local community.
The day, duration and time of the group's meeting will appear in AA information literature and public notices. Changes should only be made when this is absolutely necessary and need to be planned and advertised well ahead of time.
A number of factors should be considered before choosing a venue for the group's meeting. The first is that, being self-supporting, the fellowship cannot accept free accommodation. The group needs to agree a reasonable rent with the venue or a donation and must be sure that it can meet this cost from its group income. It is advisable that wherever possible the meeting location is available 52 weeks a year. In cases where this is not possible a suitable alternative for holding the meeting might be found.
Previous groups have benefitted from a venue which is easily reached by public transport with adequate and well-lit parking on site or nearby. It is beneficial to have a room which is welcoming, easily accessible to all, and of an appropriate size, with chairs and tables available. It is also helpful to have secure storage for AA material and for the group's refreshments. Kitchen and lavatory facilities are required and you may want special items like a hearing loop.
Agreement will be necessary with the venue's management about setting up and storing furniture, safety requirements and public liability insurance. The latter may be provided by your Intergroup/Region. Arrangements for unlocking and securing the room/building might require AA to provide a key-holder.
Ideally the group should start with at least a Chairperson/Secretary, Treasurer and Group Service Representative (GSR). The GSR will be the communication link between the group and intergroup. It is suggested that all members serving at the group level adhere to the recommended lengths of sobriety for each position. Other officers might be appointed from regular attendees at the meeting, before the holding of a formal Annual General Meeting.
It has been found to be beneficial if a group can attract and retain members with a broad range of years of sobriety. Not only does this reflect a greater variety of the stages of recovery but it makes it much easier to fill posts from members with sufficient sobriety.
It is a good idea to inform Intergroup and GSO of the group's main officers, giving their full name, postal address, phone number and other contact details. These details are confidential to intergroup (and in some areas regional) officers and GSO and are not made public.
Items for the meeting room
Previous groups have obtained some of the items below before receiving income from members (to be reimbursed later).
These might include:
- The Big Book
- Anonymity Card and other top table cards
- Scrolls of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and possibly the Concepts
- A pot (some groups use a bell of some type)
- The Preamble, Serenity Prayer and other cards, and perhaps the pack of six slogans for a wall or shelf
- The AA Structure Handbook and AA Service Handbooks for Great Britain
- Supplies for refreshments
It would be good to have at least some AA literature available at the first meeting, for sale or for giving to newcomers. The items available can be changed and added to as time goes by. The following items might be on the first literature table:
- Big Book
- Starter Packs
- 'Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions'
- Local intergroup 'Where to Find'
- 'The AA Group'
- Any items particularly relevant to the group's intended membership (e.g. 'LGBT Voices')
- Copies of Share and AA Service News.
In keeping with Tradition Seven, an AA group is expected to be self-supporting from the contributions of its members, collected through passing the pot. These contributions pay for the rent of the room and associated costs, basic refreshments and literature stocks.
After an initial start-up period the group ought to meet these costs from the pot income. It is strongly suggested that a group opens a bank account (or similar) with multiple signatories, at least two officers. Previous groups have found that it is better to open the account in the name of Alcoholics Anonymous as signatories will rotate (see page 82 of the AA Structure Handbook). In terms of anonymity, bank account records are not in the public domain. After retaining a prudent reserve, enough to cover at least the next month's rent bill and other costs, the remainder of the funds ought to be passed on to intergroup to help finance its activities in pursuit of our primary purpose.
If the group cannot meet its running costs it can ask its members to increase their contributions when they can afford to do so, perhaps by passing the pot twice during each meeting. If it is still without sufficient income to meet its outgoings it will be obliged to close down.
Registering the group
Experience suggests that after (approximately) three months or so, the group will know if it has enough support to continue to meet and be self-supporting. After this time, it is recommended that they then register with the General Service Office (GSO) in York. This is because it will be listed online, in the Where to Find and will receive AA service News and other communication from GSO. This is done by obtaining and completing the 'Pink Form', either on paper or on line through the AA GB website - https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk. Look in the sections related to: Documents / Forms / Groups / Registration. GSO's address is: General Service Office, PO Box 1, 10 Toft Green, York, YO1 7NJ. Tel: 01904 644026 Reception e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once the group is registered with GSO, a 'starter pack' can be ordered from the Office for Â£20, which, at the time of writing, contains the following material:-
1 each of: Big Book (soft cover) / 12 Steps 12 Traditions / 44 Questions & Answers / This is AA / Young People in AA / AA for the Woman / Sponsorship: Your Questions Answered / Do You Think You're Different? / Too Young? / The AA Group / Growing into Service / Let it Stay Here card / Service Handbook and Structure Handbook
3 each of: Is AA For You? / 15 Points / A Newcomer Asks / Who Me? / How It Works / Just For Today card / Wallet Card (Steps, Traditions, Prayer) / Internet Safety card / AA at a Glance / A Message to Young People / A4 Posters - Contact AA / Trapped / Too Young?
The Group Conscience
It is suggested that all groups hold regular Group Conscience meetings. These may be particularly helpful when a group is starting off. The pamphlet AA Business Meetings, the Group Conscience and Group Conscience Meetings provides advice and guidance.
When the new group is on the lists of intergroup and General Service Office and in the local and national 'Where to Find' systems, then the opportunities for the still suffering alcoholic to find AA have been increased. Those involved in the birth of the group will have done valuable service to the Fellowship, and we will all hope that the group continues to fulfil its primary purpose for years to come.
Guidance approved at the General Service Board Meeting 22 September 2018