At the last regional service conference, the subject of Zones came up. As you may know, this is a hot topic within the fellowship and while a lot is going on, not all of us understand what Zones are or what they do. Though not a comprehensive explanation of all that a zone is or could be, here’s a brief history.
A Guide To Local Services in NA outlines and qualifies the varying levels of service in Narcotics Anonymous. Here is all it says about zones:
Zones have been around for a long time. The North East Zonal Forum, of which the NJ Region is a member, was started about 25 years ago (a brief description on the beginning of the NEZF can be found here). To better understand how zones came to be, we start with the service structure of NA.
Groups come together to meet at Area Service Conferences. They do this because they wish to provide services such as H&I, PI, etc. This consolidates resources and allows the group to focus on its Primary Purpose.
Areas join together to create Regional Service Conferences again to consolidate resources and to further provide services to its members on a larger geographic scale.
Ostensibly, the Regions join together to make the World Service Conference, providing services to the world wide fellowship.
At some point, some regions started to get together to discuss issues that affected them based on their geographic locations—things that affected more than one region but not the worldwide fellowship. If you read the link above to the history of the NEZF, you’ll see that the East Coast Convention was an early topic of discussion. Although not a worldwide concern, it did concern more than a single region.
As these collections of regions met with one another they formed what we think of today as Zones. The meetings were mostly informal. They were discussion-based and a means to share information with one another, existing outside of the service structure of NA.
As the fellowship grew outside of the United States, however, new Zones were formed. These new Zones look very different from those in the U.S. In the U.S, Zones had been formed almost as an afterthought. In fellowships outside of the U.S., Zones are used to help developing NA communities where Areas and Regions are not yet established, and members find them very useful. It is similar to how World Services helped new communities in the U.S. when NA was in its infancy. And because these new Zones are more than just discussion-based meetings and actually provide services to local NA communities, they are much more robust than those in the U.S. By this I mean that in many cases, they look—and in some ways, act—like giant Regional Service bodies. They have committees and perform large-scale projects like nationwide PI campaigns. Some have big conventions that draw from an entire nation or several nations within a Zone.
Currently, there are 15 Zones throughout the world, eight of which are in the U.S. As NA has grown, Zones have become a useful tool. For the older Zones, it began and remains a way to communicate with one another about the issues facing local RSCs. Although some Zones have taken on a much greater role, they remain outside of the NA service structure. A lot of what you may be hearing is due to an effort to make them part of the service structure. There are many opinions on this and, as is the case with many things in our fellowship, there are strong opinions on both sides.
In later articles we’ll explore some of those positions. For now, please don’t rely solely on my experience and understanding: talk with fellow members with experience and ask them to share their understanding of what Zones are and how they came to be so that we all can be informed about the fellowship that has not just saved our lives, but given us lives worth living.