Big Book Step Study (BBSS)

  • BBSS Meeting Format

    • The Chairperson -- Qualifications, Responsibilities, and Attitudes

      • Is sober at least a year and has done the 12 steps as laid out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and can demonstrate that by words and example.

      • Is willing to conduct the meeting following the prescribed format; is the "point person" for the group and as such is expected to uphold the group conscience; is willing to explain the group's function and goals to newcomers and visitors before, during, or after the meeting. Must be willing to intercede if necessary to remind people of the meeting's purpose or the group's conscience and qualifications for sharing, and lets people know when their time is up. The chairperson serves for a month at a time and arranges for the speakers during the month.

      • Believes that "God's will" is for alcoholics to recover through the 12 steps. Has a greater desire to tell the "Truth" than to be popular. Believes he or she is a servant to the God of their understanding, and to the people around them.

    • Meeting Format

      • 1. Chairperson's Introduction (shown here).
        As the basic format for the group meeting, the instructions consist of several parts: the AA preamble, the Group preamble, and the Step Rotation.

      • 2. 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 alcoholic who still suffers. It lays out the ground rules of the meeting. It makes clear that sharing at a BBSS meeting depends upon whether a person has direct experience with the 12 steps as they are laid out in the basic text.

      • 3. Reading from the Big Book (shown here).
        Also known as the cycle, or step rotation, this is a 15-week rotation of readings. The chairperson announces the step, and pages in the Big Book that will be used as a topic for the meeting that night. The chairperson starts the reading by asking people to read, a paragraph at a time, going around the tables or the room. (The readers do not identify themselves at this point in the meeting)

    • The Speaker

      This is a person who is qualified to share by having done 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 Big Book 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 some significant 9th step amends, and are practicing steps 10, 11, and 12 on a daily basis. They usually have chaired BBSS meetings, and are sponsoring people through the 12 steps. They often give a very brief history of their drinking, recapping their AA 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 an hour and a half with no break. It is divided into three parts: the reading of the step, the speaker for the step, and discussion of the step being studied.

      • Who Can Share

        People who have completed their 4th Step writing, have read their 5th Step with a sponsor, and are actively working Steps 10, 11 and 12 on a daily basis may share during the meeting. Often, people who have been through the process qualify by saying they have done the steps as laid out in the Big Book with a sponsor who has done the same, or something to that effect, to show familiarity with the BBSS process. Each person shares for a brief period (3-5 minutes) and the chairperson will alert a speaker when their allotted time is up.

      • What to Do When Unqualified People Try to Share

        It is the responsibility of the chairperson to determine whether a person is qualified to share. The chairperson must listen carefully to what the person is saying about the step to determine whether it reflects the teachings of the Big Book.

        If not done during the meeting, the chairperson or other group members should seek the person directly after the meeting to explain the BBSS format and group conscience. This is done in an attitude of genuine concern, helpfulness, and loving service.

        What happens if a person becomes angry and insists on sharing? It is wise to let them have their say. But, at a later time, they should be asked to show they are qualified to share, per the group conscience. Our inventories have shown us that outbursts of anger are often self-seeking strategies to further our security, self esteem, personal relations, ambition and pride. The expression "an empty barrel makes the most noise" best describes this type of reaction.

  • Summary

    This description is meant to be suggestive only. Big Book Step Study meetings work; they work by being structured and specific, providing clear-cut directions on how to recover from the disease of alcoholism; they work by putting AA principles ahead of our own (and other peoples') personalities and having one aim above all else: to carry the AA message to the alcoholic who still suffers, no matter how long they've been sober.

    Our experience is not the last word, but it is distilled from years of experience. We have written this in anticipation of the basic stumbling blocks which one may encounter when trying to start a meeting and fellowship of this type within AA. We welcome the comments and experience of other BBSS folks, as well as the questions of those who want to do the steps this way, and then serve as BBSS sponsors for 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."

    • Our group has adopted a slightly modified version of the Hyannis Men's Big Book Step Study Group preamble. Other groups may use this or their own variation of this preamble.

    • Our group uses the earliest version of the step rotation. Other BBSS groups have added or taken away or condensed readings, and have changed the order of readings.