How to Start a New Secular Meeting

Starting a new meeting may seem daunting. Don’t be deterred. The century-old 12-Step approach to addiction originated in a single living room and has grown to include hundreds of thousands of members the world over. Similarly, there is another movement amassing among those searching for a secular model of recovery. 

With meetings moving online during the pandemic, it has made secular offerings more accessible than ever.  While in the past, members were confined to gatherings within their geographic regions, now we have the opportunity to choose based on personal preference. This newfound freedom has led to a surge in attendance at secular meetings as well as a growing demand for more options. 

Fundamentally, all it requires to start a new meeting is two compulsive eaters committed to convening at a regular time and place (virtual or physical). From that starting point, organizers can follow this guide to manage the logistics and further extend the reach of Overeaters Anonymous (OA) to the person who still suffers.

Need a Place to Meet? 

Secular Overeaters can give secular OA groups a free weekly Zoom room slot. Any secular meeting can apply, even those that are using outside literature or alternative Steps (and thus are not able to register with oa.org). When you are able, we ask that you contribute 7th Tradition donations to help support this service. Apply for a Zoom Room today!

While many meetings convene once a week, it’s also possible to meet more or less frequently, such as daily or once a month. Meetings typically last for one hour, but, again, this is flexible, with some opting to shorten to 45 minutes and others lengthen to 90 minutes. Feel free to experiment and decide what works for you. Consider consulting the current list of secular meetings to avoid creating a conflict.

Register your meeting with the OA governing body at oa.org/add-a-meeting/. Be prepared to provide Zoom and/or call-in details and a contact person. Reach out to us, Secular Overeaters, for free access to a Zoom Room (priority is given to secular groups that are not OA-approved because they use alternate Steps or literature AND to OA-approved groups that can’t get a free meeting slot through their own Intergroup). While most groups are choosing to use Zoom until in-person gatherings resume, it’s possible to use other services, such as Free Conference Call. (Need a place to meet? Apply for one of our free Zoom Rooms!)

Expand awareness of your meeting by registering with your local intergroup too. This will also be necessary if you plan to meet in-person post-pandemic.

To be listed on OA.org, the group will need to commit to the following: “As a group, (you) meet to practice the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, guided by the Twelve Concepts of OA Service.” Don’t worry. Upholding this requirement won’t require compromising any spiritual or religious beliefs. Still, some groups chose not to register with OA to remain free of any constraints.

If you wish to start an unregistered OA meeting (e.g., one that uses alternative Steps or “outside” non-OA literature), we will be glad to list you on our calendar. Currently about a third of our secular meetings are unregistered with OA.

OA allows meetings to identify whether they have a special topic. Listing a meeting topic as “Atheist and Agnostic” will help reach those searching for secular groups. Also, contact us with your meeting details to have it listed on our website meeting list.

Each meeting is unique in its approach to exploring the 12 Steps, though many do share commonalities such as setting aside time for personal sharing. The possibilities are as varied as our members. Meetings can feature a speaker (or two!), read literature, write, meditate, and/or focus on a particular topic, such as abstinence or relapse. Some groups choose to dedicate time for newcomers to ask questions. Others have a rotating format or allow a fellow to pick the weekly focus. 

Here are sample scripts used by current meetings. Feel free to modify one of these or write your own, always keeping in mind the newcomer. A script should be constructed to make sense to a person joining for the first time and always center on how the 12 Steps, Tools, Traditions, and Principles are practiced to find relief from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors. You can also reach out to fellows who are listed for each of the secular meetings to get more ideas.

A warning: it is possible for OA to delist a group for reading non-approved literature and/or alternative versions of the Steps. That is why some groups choose to read traditional literature and invite members to change offensive language, while others avoid reading texts that include God or patriarchal language. At least two of our meetings deal with this problem by dividing into two sections: a 45-minute formal OA meeting followed by an informal 15 minute gathering to read and comment on secular literature. This format is listed as the sample script from the Bethesda meeting. While Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has built and embraced a robust secular community (there are more than 500 secular AA meetings around the world), this in many ways is unchartered territory for OA. The fellows of SecularOvereaters are here to support members however possible as we all navigate the unknown. In addition, you don’t need to be a registered OA meeting to be on the SO meeting list. If you make this choice, you can use any Step versions or outside literature! Currently about a third of our meetings are “unregistered” with OA and they’re doing alright!

Get a free Google account: You can get a google account for your meeting and use the email and other functions, like “Documents”” to write and share your script or “Sheets” to keep track of positions.

While OA and all 12-Step groups should forever remain non-professional, it is necessary to assign responsibilities. For instance, a secretary is needed to read the script. A treasurer collects the Seventh Tradition contributions and maintains the books. Other roles may include speaker getter, newcomer greeter, and Intergroup representative. Roles should be rotated on a regular basis to avoid power structures from forming and to allow everyone to be of service. How roles are defined and their commitment length should be determined by group conscience (Tradition Four).

Sample position tracker: You can get a Google account for your meeting and use the email and other functions, like “Sheets” to keep track of positions, or “Docs” to write and share your script.

Once a meeting is established, decisions should be made using group conscience. Most groups schedule a regular business meeting (either weekly or monthly) to handle housekeeping and any issues that may arise. Group inventories can also be useful in maintaining healthy practices. Return to the Traditions and Principles for guidance.

For more information, check out these additional OA and AA new meeting guides:
oa.org/how-to-start-a-meeting/
aaagnostica.org/how-to-start-an-aa-meeting

As well as this template for setting up a secular AA meeting:
aaagnostica.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/How-to-Start-a-Secular-AA-Meeting-FAQ.pdf

Have you been waiting for help? (Carol G)