The Death of a 12 Step Group…An Obituary on What Went Wrong?

“There is only one thing more contagious than enthusiasm and that is a lack of it!”

Recently I heard of a 12 Step Group closing its doors due to lack of support and attendance. Those few remaining members expressed a sincere saddness that the group was no longer. Other members in the fellowship commented that it was sad for them too, because it was the first group they attended when they came into the fellowship.

Factors that cause a 12 Step Group to close its doors

Twelve Step Groups are dynamic entities–members come and go as the please, they relapse, move away, join other groups, pass away, or just stop coming to meetings altogether. There are other reasons for a Group to close it doors, perhaps it holds its meeting at a inconvenient time or day of the week or is located “off-the-beaten path”. These reasons should be considered when a Group notices its membership dwindling–prudent action is for a Group to take regular Group inventory.

Many groups periodically take a “group inventory,” for an honest and fearless discussion of the group’s weaknesses-and strengths. Questions may include:

  • What is the basic purpose of the group?
  • What more can the group do to carry the message?
  • Considering the number of alcoholics or addicts in our community, are we reaching enough people?
  • What has the group done lately to bring the 12 Step message to the attention of physicians, judges, members of the clergy, and others who can be helpful in reaching those who need help?
  • Is the group attracting only a certain kind of alcoholic, or addict or are we getting a good cross section of our community?
  • Do new members stick with us, or does turnover seem excessive?
  • How effective is our sponsorship? How can it be improved?
  • Has everything practical been done to provide an attractive meeting place?
  • Has enough effort been made to explain to all members the need and value of kitchen and housekeeping work and other services to the group?
  • Is adequate opportunity given to all members to speak and participate in other group activities?
  • Are group officers picked with care and consideration on the basis that officership is a great responsibility and opportunity for Twelfth Step work?
  • Does the group carry its fair share of the job of helping out at the Intergroup/Area?
  • Do we give all members their fair chance of keeping informed about the whole of 12 Step Recovery, Unity, and Service?

Carry the message NOT the addict

Another reason many Groups close their doors is because they have lost focus on Tradition Five: Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic (addict) who still suffers. Furthermore, Tradition Five (Long): Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose–that of carrying its message to the alcoholic (addict) who still suffers.

One aspect of this focus is the “message” that a group carries. “It has been my experience that too many times a group turns into a social club or an hour-long rap session. Many newcomers have been taught in treatment centers that it is a good thing to talk over your problems, to let it out. Don’t let them or even veterans of the program turn your meetings into a whining session…we all need to remember our primary purpose, the core of our being. The one thing we all have in common and know will work, regardless of where we came from or what is going on in our lives at the moment. We need to always talk the solution and not the problem. We need to find within our groups those with the time and desire to reach out. To ‘carry the message to the addict who still suffers.'” (CA NewsGram, Second Quarter 2004, Vol. 20 No. 2 “Carry the Message not the Wreckage”)

Our Sole Purpose

A.A. Co-founder, Bill W. says in his book, As Bill Sees It, pg. 79: “A group cannot take on the personal problems of its members–the primary responsibility for the solutions of all their problems of living and growing rest squarely upon the individual themselves. Should a group attempt this sort of help, its effectiveness and energies would be hopelessly dissipated. Sobriety — FREEDOM from the obsessive thoughts, compulsive feelings, and physical cravings that ruled our lives, through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps, is the SOLE PURPOSE of the group. If we don’t stick to this cardinal principal, we shall almost certainly collapse, and if we collapse, we can’t help anyone.” On page 86 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says: “But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.” Furthermore, when members are focused on Tradition Five is says on page 89 of the Big Book of Alcoholics: “Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends — this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.”

P.S. Dead Groups serve no one.

Let us hear about your thoughts and reasons as to why Groups closed their doors forever.


4 thoughts on “The Death of a 12 Step Group…An Obituary on What Went Wrong?

  1. In the beginning it was Bill W. and Dr. Bob and then came Bill D.–A.A. Number three.

    Through applying the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions, we grow in love, tolerance, and respect for each other. This spiritual growth allows us to rise above prejudice, regardless of religion, ethnicity, economic status, age, gender, or sexual orientation, to carry the C.A. message. Though we are different, we are the same. Regardless of the author, we share the same story. Recovery is possible—together. — CA World Service Handout – Unity

    "…he finds he cannot keep this priceless gift unless he carries the A.A. message…the moment this Twelfth Step work forms a group, another discovery is made—that most individuals cannot recover unless there is a group. Realization dawns that he is but a small part of a great whole; that no personal sacrifice is too great for preservation of the Fellowship. He learns that the clamour of desires and ambitions within him must be silenced whenever these could damage the group. It becomes plain that the group survive or the individual will not." — AA, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, P. 130

    Definition of a Cocaine Anonymous "Group": A meeting is when two or more people gather together to share their experience, strength and hope with each other.
    The basic unit in C.A. is the local Group, which is autonomous except in matters affecting other Groups or C.A. as a whole. The Group has but one primary purpose, which is to help others to recover through the Twelve suggested Steps. — C.A. World Service Manual 2011 Edition p. 14

  2. The meaning of anonymity “in all public media” is confusing. We can advertise our AA and OA meetings in the newspaper but there is zero visibility on social media. Anonymity, the way 12-step approaches it in this day and age, equals invisibility. There needs to be an organizational inventory done to assess how 12-step communicates its presence within communities.

  3. Good article. If people don’t go to meetings, the more difficult it is for a group to stay open. That is one of the reasons I go.

  4. AA and NA are dying here. No one will admit it but I go all over to meetings and see the same thing everywhere. I think it is Drug Court, but everyone says I’m wrong. Meetings get creepy when 90% of the people don’t want to be there and you are trying to bear your soul. It seems like most of the talk in meetings these days is arranging Drug Court people to get sober and drop their nasty habit. Kind of brow beating them. But I am not going anywhere. I gotta go to meetings. Just saying, its really in flux.

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