How to Start A Secular AA Meeting – FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
By Roger C.
Updated on 2019/12/27
Those who choose to start a secular AA meeting have to make very few decisions. Here are some of the questions asked when these meetings are being put together.
What should we name our meeting?
The most common name used for secular AA meetings (and groups) is “We Agnostics,” simply because it’s the name of chapter four in the Big Book. Other groups find a name that appeals to them or represents their idea of the group. Examples of these names are “Beyond Belief”, “Live and Let Live”, “The Only Requirement” or “Freethinkers in AA”. It is certainly helpful when the name makes it clear to others looking for such a meeting that it is a secular meeting.
How should we open and close our meeting?
Many secular groups have at least two readings, the Secular AA Preamble to open the meeting and the Responsibility Declaration to close it.
The Agnostic AA Preamble: AA agnostic meetings endeavor to maintain a tradition of free expression, and conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. In keeping with AA tradition, we do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to ensure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny our own.
The Responsibility Declaration: I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that I am responsible.
Remember, each AA group has complete autonomy to follow its own “group conscience.” Therefore, whatever your group decides to read – or not read – during your meeting is strictly your choice.
What meeting format should we use?
AA does not mandate a “standardized” meeting format. There are, however, a number of common formats that groups can choose from:
Topic – Meeting topics can be arrived at in various ways: taken from a topic list previously created by the group, or selected ad hoc by the group at the beginning of the meeting. You can have a meeting with one or two or even three topics. It often depends upon how many people are in attendance.
Reading – The group selects a book that the members feel will be helpful to their sobriety. A section or chapter from the book is read (and passed around so all can participate in the reading) and then discussed after the reading. Some groups use the book Living Sober for this type of meeting. Lately a number of secular AA groups do the daily reflections reading from Joe C’s book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, and then go around the room for a discussion.
Speaker – One member of the group, or a guest, shares her/his experience, strength and hope with the other members of the group or chooses a specific theme as the topic. This can be for the whole meeting or for just 10 or 15 minutes, with the latter option giving the others a chance to share as well.
Can an agnostic group change the original 12 Steps?
There are groups that have taken the words “Power” and “God” and “Him” and “His” out of the Steps, and created their own versions of the Steps. These vary widely from one group to another, and many can be found here at AA Agnostica: The Alternative Steps.
AA’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, certainly said you could change the 12 Steps.
However, creating a version of the Steps that varies from the original 12 Steps can sometimes be a controversial subject. Some Intergroup / Central Offices are disturbingly dogmatic and insist that groups only use the original 12 Steps. You should know how your Intergroup/Central Office will react.
Another option is not using the Steps at all at your meeting. That works too.
Should the new group list itself with the General Service Office (GSO)?
Listing with the GSO provides options that listing a meeting with a local office do not. Indeed, sometimes your local Intergroup or Central Office will want you to list first with the GSO.
You can also get actively involved in AA by registering with the GSO. Now, please understand: you don’t have to be involved at all! You can just have your meetings and that’s it.
But, once the group is listed with the GSO, the group can also name its “General Service Representative” (GSR). The pamphlet GSR – General Service Representative – Your Group’s Link to AA as a Whole provides a description of the General Service Conference structure and the role of the GSR. The group’s General Service Representative may attend (and have a vote at) regional district and Area Assembly meetings. He or she may also attend and vote at local AA Intergroup meetings, usually held on a monthly basis.
Again, there are absolutely zero obligations imposed on an AA group.
How do we let people know about our meeting?
First, you should have your meeting listed with your local Intergroup or Central Office. Drop by or give the office a call.
Let them know that your group or meeting is a secular one. These days there is an app created by the GSO that lists AA meetings all across North America. The app is called the Meeting Guide and one of the categories of meetings on this app is “secular”. That can be very helpful for those in need of a non-Godly recovery.
There are other ways to get the word out about your meeting. You can attend traditional AA meetings and tell others about your meeting. You can provide flyers about your group which can be placed on the Literature tables of other AA meetings in your area.
When we list our meeting, should we make it an “open” or a “closed” meeting?
Meetings are either “open” or “closed”. The term “closed” means the meeting can only be attended by alcoholics and/or addicts (although traditional AA meetings often exclude all substance abusers other than alcoholics). Anyone can attend an “open” meeting, usually relatives or friends of the alcoholics and addicts, but these people are often not invited to share during a discussion.
Where’s a good location to hold our meeting?
All locations are good if it’s mutually acceptable to both parties. A perhaps surprising but common location for secular AA meetings is the Unitarian Universalist Church, which has decades of history of supporting agnostic groups in AA. The first ever agnostic AA meeting was held at a UU Church in Chicago in 1975. And the first ever secular AA convention was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Santa Monica, California.
Other locations that agnostic groups have used include men or women’s clubs, treatment centers, community or senior centers, association facilities (i.e. Moose Lodge, Finnish Hall), non-profit organizations (i.e. United Way), college or university facilities or library facilities. And some agnostic groups have also used Alano Clubs for their meetings.
How many people are needed to start a new group and meeting?
The short answer would be two people, given that Tradition Three says: “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.” However, the more people involved, the easier it will be to get the basic tasks done, meeting by meeting.
I launched a secular meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, called We Agnostics, on February 4, 2016. It is held every Thursday evening at 7 PM and is usually attended by two dozen or so people. A second meeting was launched at the same place on September 10, 2018 and is held every Monday.
It is in the (appropriately named) Fellowship Hall at the First Unitarian Church. A good location: downtown and easily accessible.
And let me just say this: I love the meeting. I was nervous when it was first launched, afraid it might not work. But it works! At the end of each and every meeting I feel newly inspired and re-energized.
So, should you start your own group and meeting? You betcha! It can be life-saving. For others. And for you.
For a PDF of this article click here: How to Start a Secular AA Meeting – FAQ.