“…and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.” -Matt 4:24
A pastor at one of the faith communities which hosts some local 12 step meetings was talking with me not long ago. I had mentioned in passing that the attendance at the AA meeting they host in their building – only started about 4 years ago – had really begun to pick up. We were nearly capacity for the space, and it wouldn’t be long before we’d have to relocate. He was surprised, and ask what might have contibuted to the growth. Secretly, I thought he had an ulterior motive for inquiring. I knew that attendance at the church’s Sunday services had flatlined for a while, in some cases even declining, and maybe he was looking for some ideas to spur growth.
I said that I wasn’t any expert on organization growth but having been part of the recovery community for quite some time, I did have some ideas about things tried that seemed to work effectively, and some that were not so effective. Remarkably, this particular group ramped up with only 2 or 3 people. So apparently word got out. I remember the early conversations and the kinds of input. I recall hearing, “Let’s try to be very inclusive. And informal. And enjoyable, not taking ourselves too seriously.”
He nodded. I went on, “Group cohesion is extraordinarily important, given that we draw from a diverse community, and I think when groups begin to ‘gell’ then they start to grow. Over the years, I’ve watched the way that effective 12 step groups can often work to implicitly supress the self-centered and inward-focused impulses that so many show up with. The phrase I’ve often heard is ‘Breaking the bondage of self.’ It’s not too different from other organzations that share a common focus. When I was in the military, for example, I saw countless instances of individuals sacrificing for the common good. Some have even considered it a form of spirituality, or self transcendence. Effective 12 step groups act – if only for the hour or so that they meet – in much the same way.”
“Groups generally try to be exceptionally supportive to newer members. Its more than just saying Hello and offering a cup of coffee. There is a sincere gratitude at new people finding us and a desire to be helpful. I guess its important to also know your audience. Know their needs. The meeting doesn’t get many of the down and out, hopeless variety. Most are educated, employable, and just got caught up in something beyond their control. In cases like this, many participants are ‘meeting mandated’ by the judicial system. I learned that most had a requirement to log community service hours in order to complete the terms. So I offered an opportunity help out in my church’s location where we had a community garden. Scheduled work hours turned out to be a great way to talk about recovery and encourage those newly on that path. A couple have alrady expressed interest in visiting regular services on Sundays.”
“Of course, that wasn’t the original intent, but did seem like an outgrowth of efforts to devise programs in response to a frequently expressed need. I strongly think that kind of focus can only work to build and strengthen communities, be they recovery or otherwise.”
Sacred Tapestry UMC, Marietta, GA