The AA Service Manual, p. 2:
Today, there are approximately 2 million members of Alcoholics Anonymous, represented in 125,000 groups spread across approximately 180 countries. More than 40 million copies of our basic text Alcoholics Anonymous have been distributed in over 70 languages. Indeed, A.A. has come a long way since the day in May 1935 when our co-founders, Dr. Bob and Bill W., met for the very first time. So how is it that Alcoholics Anonymous has grown into the worldwide Fellowship that we see today?
The obvious answer is that many people have found sobriety through A.A.’s program of recovery.
But there’s another reason, too: general service.
To those serving the Fellowship for the first time, the term “general service” may be unfamiliar.
From the earliest days of A.A., Bill W. envisioned our message of hope and recovery reaching sick and suffering alcoholics around the world. After all, alcoholism is a respecter of nothing—least of all the borders between nations. And yet, A.A. groups and intergroup/central offices were not well equipped to reach beyond their respective communities. Their focus, and rightly so, was—and is—local. So in A.A.’s early years, Bill and Dr. Bob assumed the overall leadership role. Yet, it didn’t take long for them to start to wonder: who will take over for us?
Bill came up with a bold solution. The early leadership of A.A. would be succeeded not by new people, but by the collective conscience of the groups in A.A.
Bill proposed a plan to create a “service structure” to facilitate Twelfth Step work across the country and around the world. This structure would bring to bear the collective conscience of the groups on matters affecting “A.A. as a whole.” At the heart of this structure would be the A.A. groups themselves, providing both the conscience and financial support for A.A. services throughout the Fellowship. It would be a structure to take the place of government in A.A., ensuring that the full voice of A.A. would be heard. Today, we call the service structure that developed from Bill’s plan the General Service Conference structure, or simply, general service.