What The Church Can Learn From The AA Community

What The Church Can Learn From The AA Community

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in on an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was a small group of women who were generous enough to allow me to sit in on their time together. I have learned to love that community and how they operate as a whole. While I have only visited a few times on behalf of someone else, I have learned a lot from my time with them. I have learned the importance of addiction recovery and how to stand in the gaps for those you love. I have learned so much from how this community does life together, as well as how they work their steps in recovery, and that’s just as an observer.

When I walked away from that meeting, my mind was racing. I work within a small group setting. My whole life is centered around building community, and yet there is still something so different about this group. I’ve read through parts of the Big Book (everything you need to know about AA) and see so many parallels to the bible. The steps alone slightly resemble the Beatitudes. One of the chapters opens up with a line saying “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path”. That’s awesome. As I tried to organize my thoughts, I started thinking, how do we do this as The Church?  There is so much to learn. I won’t be able to cover it all because there’s a lot of territory to explore, but here we go:

Be Vulnerable

When someone who struggles with an addiction walks through the doors of a meeting, they don’t have a choice but to be up front about who they are and what their struggle is. Did you give into your addiction this week? You don’t get to ignore it. There’s no covering it up and no getting around it. How are you going to fully recover if you can’t be honest with your group, your sponsor, or even yourself? Addiction Recovery gets that and they’re well equipped for how to handle that kind of honesty. The first step is admitting they are powerless over their addiction, and when you begin to think you can do it on your own, you enter dangerous territory. So how can The Church be better about this?

While I think that we can be better about being vulnerable, I think it’s a two way street. If we want to set the pace for vulnerability, we need to be a safe place. And if we are going to be a safe place, it needs to be unconditional. When we are finally ready for what true transparency looks like, we need to handle it with grace. The Church needs to be known as being a safe place just as much as AA is. We are all facing spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.

Unconditional Support

God loves us unconditionally. We learn that in church and we instill it within our kids at such a young age. We express that there is nothing that could separate us from His love. Yet we love one another conditionally. Addiction Recovery teaches this well. They never speak in absolutes. Never do they refer to themselves as fully recovered. Their addiction is in remission, which means if they are to fall short, their community will be there to pick them up.

We are really good at saying we have this down in The Church, but I feel like we are the first to fall short in this area. In fact, when someone messes up (as we are all in recovery from sin, right?), our reaction can be to gossip or shine a light on how this person has messed up. Our love is conditional as long as they are following our code. We can learn from the AA Community that there is nothing that can separate you from the Body of Christ and The Church should be better about communicating that.

Surrender It All

We love to talk about how we have surrendered our life to Jesus in church. We sing it so beautifully on Sunday morning in worship. We’ve given it all over to Him and we’re never going back. Except when we do. Proverbs says it best that we return to our foolishness like a dog returns to it’s vomit. GROSS. So why do we never allow ourselves to fully surrender?

You don’t have a choice in addiction recovery. When you surrender your addiction in AA (or any recovery community), you can never be half in. The Big Book states “half measures availed us nothing”, which throws us to a turning point. It’s abandon former self and former ways, or nothing at all. It’s not just a step, it’s full transformation. It involves so much of setting aside your ability of doing anything on your own and handing it all over to your higher power.

Our higher power is God. We should know this one well. It very well should be our first step as a believer in Christ, but we are so quick to want to do it ourselves, which continually throws us into a cycle of failure. We need to be better at surrendering. We need to be all in.


We are so afraid to call people out on their crap. And we should be, because chances are that whatever we are calling someone out for, we could have them beat with our own sin. And what if THEY call us out while we are calling them out? Such a weird cycle for why we don’t hold one another accountable, right? So now everyone is screwing up and we are all too afraid to say something because ew, confrontation or but, what if they don’t like me anymore? 

AA sets the pace with vulnerability and they offer to hold one another accountable. They welcome someone coming alongside them. In fact, when you walk through the doors, you are immediately encouraged to find a sponsor who serves as your accountability partner?

So what if the church worked like that.

Hi, my name is Katie and I just became a Christian.
Hi, Katie! Welcome, we are so glad you are here. Now find someone to hold you accountable because you are going to screw up. A lot.

The things I’ve listed are obviously things that The Church strives for as a whole. These are in no way new concepts for us. But they are things we should be striving to do well. As a community, we want to appear to be vulnerable and accountable and a safe place where we can surrender and feel supported. I think we just get caught up with being something we shouldn’t be. We so badly strive for perfection and forget we are a hospital for the sick.

I love AA and it is my hope that I can live my life like someone who is in recovery. Because the reality is that we are all in recovery from sin and until we are willing to stand up and admit that we have a problem, we are no better than an alcoholic who has yet to admit they have a drinking problem.