About Step Study – Story

About Step Study–Style Meetings (formerly called Big Book Step Study)

Some reflections and general guidelines on how a Step Study meeting may be conducted

The Basic Step Study Meeting.

The Chairperson:
(Qualifications, Responsibilities, and Attitudes)

1. The chairperson is free from all addictive substances and addictive behaviors, has done the steps as laid out in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous and can demonstrate that by their own words and example.

2. The chairperson Is willing to conduct the meeting according to the format. Is the “point man” of the group; is obligated to uphold the group conscience from the chair; and is willing to explain the group’s function and goals to newcomers and visitors before, during, and after the meeting. Must be willing to interrupt an individual who is off the step and remind them of the purpose of the meeting, or may have to “quiz” them on various parts of the steps to see if they have, in fact, done the work as described in the text. Keeps the time, (or appoints someone else to do so) and lets people know when their time is up. This is the most important-as well as difficult-trusted servant position in the group. The chairperson leads for a month at a time, and chooses the speaker for each meeting. If the Chairperson is unable to fulfill his duties, he or she will find a replacement.

3. Believes that “God’s will” is for addicts to get help through the 12 steps as laid out in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. Has a greater desire to tell the “Truth” than to be popular within the Recovery Community at-large. Believes he or she is a servant of God and the people around them.

The Format:

1. Chairperson’s Instructions.
As the basic format for the group meeting, these instructions include: The Group preamble, and the Step Rotation.

2. Group Preamble; i.e., the Group Conscience Statement.
This is what makes a BBSS meeting what it is. It defines our group conscience, our mission, the way we carry our message to the addict who still suffers. It lays out the ground rules of the meeting. It makes clear that sharing at a step study meeting depends upon whether a person has direct experience with the 12 steps as they are laid out in the basic text.

3. The Readings for the 12 Steps in the Big Book.
(Also known as the cycle, or step rotation, this is a 15-week rotation of readings. The chairperson announces the step(s), and pages in the Big Book that will be used as a topic for the meeting that morning/afternoon/evening. The chairperson starts the reading by asking people to read, a paragraph at a time, ( a page at a time for a Zoom meeting) going around the tables or the room. (The readers do not identify themselves at this point in the meeting.)

The Speaker:

A meeting speaker is also a person who is qualified to share by having experienced the 12 steps as they are laid out with the help of another person who has done it this way. They have done the 3rd step with their sponsor, or another person. They have done the 4th step exactly as the book, Alcoholics Anonymous lays it out, are easily able to describe all three parts, and are willing to read examples from their own inventory. They have done steps 6 and 7 approximately an hour after they finished their 5th step. They have made at least one 9th step amend(s), and are practicing steps 10, 11, and 12 on a daily basis. They usually have chaired Step Study meetings, and are sponsoring people through the 12 steps. They often give a very brief history of their addiction, recapping their Recovery experience up until BBSS, then focusing specifically on the text and their experience with the directions for the step being studied. The entire talk generally lasts around 20 minutes.

The Meeting Itself:

Usually lasts 90 minutes (an hour and a half) with no break. It’s divided into three basic parts: the reading, the speaker, and discussion of the step being studied.

1. Who Can Share.

Only those who have completed steps 1-8, made at least one amend, and are currently practicing steps 9-12 may share during the meeting. Most of those who have been through the process qualify by introducing themselves, and saying that they have done the 12 steps as they are laid out in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous with a sponsor, who has done the steps this way, or something to that effect. This differentiates them from others who are not familiar with this Step Study process. After the speaker has spoken, each qualified person shares their experience with the step for up to 5 minutes. The chairperson keeps track of time and usually holds up a hand when time is up.

2. What to Do When Unqualified People Try to Share.

It is the responsibility of the chairperson to determine whether a person is qualified. The chairperson must listen carefully to what the person is saying about the step and try to determine whether the person’s experience is consistent with the directions in the text. Some warning signs are that someone is at this type of meeting for the first time; mentions other methods, other 12-Step literature, AWOL’s, treatment center step work, Joe and Charlie seminars and tapes, the 7 deadly sins, assets-liabilities checklists; talks around the step and won’t get to the point; is unfamiliar to the group and is not familiar with this type of meeting; is visiting from another group; is a popular and well respected old-timer, but speaks very little of their own step experience, or how exactly they did the steps.

As described earlier, the chair must interrupt a person and ask them if they have “done this step the way it is laid out on these specific pages in the book Alcoholics Anonymous?” There are many approaches to this. Most successful approaches are direct, but always courteous and polite, and start with “Excuse me…” If the person says they have done it this way, or if there is still some doubt, the next step is to ask them if they would mind answering a few questions to satisfy the group. If they have done the steps, especially the 4th step the way it is laid out, they shouldn’t mind too much if they are asked some questions related directly to the basic instructions for the 4th step, such as, “Can you please tell me what the main parts of the 4th step are?” and “What are the four (4) main defects in the 1st part of the inventory? ” or “How did you do your turnarounds?” and “How did you do your sex inventory?” These are not meant to embarrass the person, but to see if they are qualified to share. It is not fair to ask other people to pass and listen who are writing their 4th steps for months on end, and let people with questionable experience share and water down the meeting. This weakens the group, and will frustrate qualified people who have had the experience, and do not want to hear (or for their sponsees to hear) about other methods which the group conscience rejects.

If the chairperson fails to do this at meeting level, a qualified person should go to the person in question directly after the meeting to explain the format, and ask some of those same questions. Some chairpersons ask to see the visitor’s 4th step, and offer to show them their own. This is all done in an attitude of genuine concern, helpfulness, and loving service.

What happens if the person becomes angry and insists on sharing? It is wise to give them their 5 minutes and let them have their say. But, at a later time, they still need to demonstrate that they have had the experience, if they want to participate on a sharing level. Our inventories have shown us that outbursts of anger are often self-seeking strategies to protect one’s security, self esteem, personal relations, ambition, and pride are designed to get one’s way. The old expression “an empty barrel makes the most noise” best describes this type of reaction.


We have presented clear and basic suggestions for how to have a step study meeting. These type of Step Study meetings work. They work by being very structured and specific, providing clear-cut directions on how to recover from the disease of addiction. They work by putting the principles of recovery ahead of our own (and other people’s) personalities, and by keeping one aim above all else: carrying the message from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous to the addict who still suffers—no matter how long they have been free from their addiction or addictive behaviors.

Our experience is not the last word, but it is distilled from many accumulated years of starting and participating in this type of study groups in our areas. We have written this in anticipation of the basic stumbling blocks that one may encounter when trying to start a meeting and fellowship of this type. We welcome the comments and experience of other experienced folks, as well as the questions of those who want to do the steps this way and do likewise with still others. One final word. It is essential to have done the steps this way in order to have the experience, faith, and courage it takes to pass it on. As it says on page 164 of our book: “But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got.”

Group conscience varies regarding who can share “from the floor.” Groups, by group conscience, may allow people who are writing their Step Four to share on the first three steps during the discussion portion of the meeting, but never as a main speaker.