Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
The freedom individual groups have in Tradition 4 carries with it the admonition to protect the fellowship as a whole.
Each 12 step group has complete freedom to decide for itself the program content of its meetings and the topics that will be discussed. The group can decide if the meeting will be opened or closed and when and where the meeting will be held. Each group can decide to change its meeting format and has complete authority to spend its funds as needed.
The group can also decide how it wishes to open and close its meetings. Some groups close with a prayer, while others have a moment of silence. In these matters, each group has total freedom. It is entirely up to the membership of that individual group.
But the second part of this tradition reminds each group that it has a responsibility also to the worldwide fellowship. By adhering to the traditions and principals of its program, each group can assure that it will not stray too far away from the program’s basic tenets.
The “autonomy” provided in Tradition 4 does not mean an individual group has the authority to re-word the steps or traditions, or to create its own literature. Nor should groups introduce, discuss, or sell “outside” literature at its meeting place.
Many a meeting has gotten away from the look and feel of its primary purpose by using non-conference approved literature, showing videos of popular self-help speakers, or allowing treatment professionals to speak at open meetings on the latest therapy techniques.
There is a saying that there is no “right or wrong” way to hold a meeting, but the group can cease carrying the message if it stray too far way from its traditions and concepts. But other than that, groups have complete freedom to design its program to the needs of its members, which can result in a wide variety of formats, as this visitor writes:
When I first came into this program I learned how it was in my little group, as I went to the other groups in neighboring towns I would think, “They don’t do their meetings right.” They have too much laughter and don’t start on time and so on. Today these little things that use to bother me now make me realize that they are what makes all these groups unique and different.
I look forward to the different meetings now because we are unique in our own rights. As long as the guidelines of the program are followed and the basic message is there for us this is one more example of why AA works.
~ Ed B.