The long form of Tradition Three states, “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.” — Reprinted from The A.A. Group….Where It All Begins, with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.
Please see our FAQ on How A.A. is Structured for further information.
It’s not mandatory to register a group with the General Service Office (G.S.O.) in New York, and nobody has to ask permission of the G.S.O. to start an A.A. group. However, a registered group has a vote in the decision making process of AA as a whole.
Note that international groups — with meetings held outside of the U.S. and Canada — have a different procedure for registering their group with their local G.S.O., if they choose to register.
Are all meetings groups then?
The same pamphlet The A.A. Group….Where It All Begins tells us “The main difference between meetings and groups is that A.A. groups generally continue to exist outside the prescribed meeting hours, ready to provide Twelfth Step help when needed. A.A. groups are encouraged to register with G.S.O., as well as with their local offices: area, district, intergroup or central office. A.A. meetings can be listed in local meeting lists.”
The last sentence is referring to listing the meeting with a local intergroup or local A.A. Office. The G.S.O. doesn’t list the time or location for the meeting held by any of the registered groups, and always refers people to the local intergroup or local A.A. Office for information about meeting times and locations.
But perhaps the most important distinction between groups and meetings is singleness of purpose: to stay sober and help others recover from alcoholism. If the members are all alcoholics, and if they open the door to all alcoholics who seek help, regardless of profession, gender, or other distinction, and meet all other aspects defining an A.A. group, they may call themselves an A.A. group.