What Is The General Service Conference?

What Is The General Service Conference?

What Is The General Service Conference?

In a bit of a followup to my post on 02/21/22 about Leadership in A.A.,” I wanted to share a little about A.A.’s General Service Conference to help members better understand what it is and why it’s important we have it.

Before we get into it, let’s see what the A.A. Service Manual says about the Conference:

“While the General Service Conference operates all year round, the annual meeting, usually held in April, is the culmination of the year’s activities, the time when the collective group conscience of U.S./ Canada A.A. comes together to take actions that will guide the groups in the years that follow.

The Conference comes closer to a governing body than anything else in A.A., but as Bill W. put it in the first edition of this manual: “Of course it cannot be too often said that while the Conference can issue orders to the General Service Office, it can never mandate or govern the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous which it serves. The Conference represents us, but cannot rule us.”

Why Do We Need a Conference?

The late Bernard B. Smith, nonalcoholic, then chairperson of the board of trustees, and one of the architects of the Conference structure, answered that question superbly in his opening talk at the 1954 meeting: “We may not need a General Service Conference to ensure our own recovery. We do need it to ensure the recovery of the alcoholic who still stumbles in the darkness one short block from this room. We need it to ensure the recovery of a child being born tonight, destined for alcoholism. We need it to provide, in keeping with our Twelfth Step, a permanent haven for all alcoholics who, in the ages ahead, can find in A.A. that rebirth that brought us back to life.

“We need it because we, more than all others, are conscious of the devastating effect of the human urge for power and prestige which we must ensure can never invade A.A. We need it to ensure A.A. against government, while insulating it against anarchy; we need it to protect A.A. against disintegration while preventing overintegration. We need it so that Alcoholics Anonymous, and Alcoholics Anonymous alone, is the ultimate repository of its Twelve Steps, its Twelve Traditions, and all of its services.

“We need it to ensure that changes within A.A. come only as a response to the needs and the wants of all A.A., and not of any few. We need it to ensure that the doors of the halls of A.A. never have locks on them, so that all people for all time who have an alcoholic problem may enter these halls unasked and feel welcome. We need it to ensure that Alcoholics Anonymous never asks of anyone who needs us what his or her race is, what his or her creed is, what his or her social position is.”

My Thoughts

If you were paying attention, you’re aware that at last year’s Conference, the decision was made to change the A.A. Preamble from “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women…” to “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of people…”  While I have no desire to go into my thoughts on that change in this post, I do think it’s a great example of what happens at the Conference that can show how we make decisions for A.A. as a whole in the U.S. and Canada.

I created the graphic above to show the correlation between how the home group and the General Service Conference makes decisions for A.A.  Home group members submit motions for consideration to their group conscience to change something at their home group.  A.A. members in the U.S. and Canada submit proposed agenda items to the General Service Board of Trustees to consider changing something for A.A. as a whole.  While the process is a little different in how business is executed – the foundation is the same.  Members get to share their voice and the body makes a decision.  It’s really that simple.

I’ve been involved in the General Service structure for some time now and I love watching the process in action.  I may not always agree with decisions made, but because I believe in Tradition 2 and Concept 1, I trust the collective voice of the Fellowship.

If you are interested in learning more about how we do business in A.A., reach out to your group’s General Service Representative (GSR), your District Committee Member (DCM), or your Area Delegate to ask them any question you may have.  They’ve each been elected to serve YOU!  May God continue to bless the work we do in making 12-Step work possible.



(Note: You can also download a free PDF version of the A.A. Service Manual that will answer most, if not all of the questions you may have)



  1. Avatar

    Karl W.

    Says October 24, 2022 at 4:47 pm

    This post was very helpful. As a newly elected GSR (first time office holder) for the betterment of our group, I need to learn all I can about the organization that is saving our lives one day at a time. Karl W. GSR. 4801 group, Jackson, MS

    • Rick W.

      Rick W.

      Says October 25, 2022 at 8:49 am

      Thank you Karl. I have been serving in the general service structure for many years and as an educator in my day job, I am always looking for ways to help folks more easily understand. Your comment lets me know I am moving in the right direction. You might want to also check out the page I created on Concepts Resources (https://takethe12.org/project/concepts/). Thank you for your service my friend!

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