12 Step Program vs. 12 Step Fellowship

The idea of the Program vs. the Fellowship took awhile for me to see. Like most people when I got to my first 12 Step group I assumed that when people talked about either the Program or the Fellowship they were really talking about the same thing. Eventually, however, I began to see that there’s an important difference between the two.

The Program

The Program, no matter if you’re in Alcoholics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous or any of the myriad of other 12 Step organizations, is outlined in the books Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book) and the AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (the 12 and 12). Those two volumes are the foundational texts, the source material if you will.

Yes, there is other literature. NA has it’s own Big Book known as the Basic Text; DA has it’s Currency of Hope (stories) and almost every 12 Step program has a selection of booklets and pamphlets that are what’s known as “Conference Approved,” meaning the respective organizations have gone through an approval process to be sure the message is the message of the group in question.

All are based one way or another on the Big Book and 12 and 12. When you want authoritative information about how to work the Steps or deal with an issue, sometimes it only makes sense to go back to the foundational texts.

The Fellowship

The fellowship refers to the people in the Program and what we say to each other about recovery. . It’s the people who share the stories that help newcomers identify and who write books, guides and websites (like this one) that may or may not reflect the Program accurately. The Fellowship is easiest to spot in meetings; meetings are the prime example of the Fellowship.

The truth is you can find every opinion you’d ever want in the Fellowship, and when I’m making suggestions to you or you’re making suggestions to me, it’s all opinion. It may be our experience and as long as it’s understood that way, it’s potentially valuable.

My first sponsor put it this way saying something like:

Anne, if someone tells you something about the Program that doesn’t seem right ask them to show you where it says that in the Big Book or 12 and 12 or other Conference Approved literature. If they can point to it, great. You’ll have to find some way to come to terms with it. On the other hand, if they can’t show you exactly where it’s said you’re safe to politely ignore them.

I’ve used this more than once to good effect.

One way, of course, to be sure of your ground is to get to know the Big Book and 12 and 12 well. And you’ll be in a better position to really help people if you do.

What’s your understanding of the difference between the Program and the Fellowship? Why is it important to you?

Love, blessings and abundance,

Anne W. Powerfully Recovered


BikerJuan December 15, 2011 at 4:16 am

The fellowship is defined for us in the preamble:
“Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.”

The program is defined on page 59 of the BB:
“Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.”

So the program is the first 164 pages of the “Big Book.” The fellowship is sharing our experience, strength, and hope with each other.

annew December 16, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Hi Jan… well said. What are you going to do with rule-62.com? I love that story.

Mike February 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Nice thank you, there is an article to help you find in your area meetings

Comments on this entry are closed.

Next post: