Almost every masonic writer, podcast, or pundit seems to be obsessed with fixing Freemasonry. I include myself in this group. It seems like there’s always a reason that we’re blaming for our decline in membership, or the state of the Craft. I’ve read that we’ve become too bloated after the membership surge of the post-World War 2 years, and the “Greatest Generation” is the cause of our downfall, that we’ve invested heavily in a crumbling infrastructure, that we’re letting the wrong men in, that we’re not doing enough to appeal to millennials, that we’re not doing enough to educate or improve men, that we’re an archaic social club or that we’re a continuation of the mystery schools, that we need to have all lodges become Traditional Observance lodges, that we need to raise dues and per capita, that we need to stop supporting concordant bodies, it’s societies fault or that Grand Lodge isn’t doing enough to address X, Y or Z…
While I agree with some of the above points, I don’t necessarily think that it’s any one particular thing. It’s a combination of a factors. The reality is that there’s not a simple solution to a complex problem…or is there?
After reading a bunch of articles regarding the declining membership in Churches, Youth Organizations and Fraternal Organizations, the below themes kept reappearing as reasons to why they’re not able to get new members, or retain the ones that they have. I took some of the major themes and broke them out below as they apply to Freemasonry. I also broke out what many of these articles had as potential solutions and applied them to Freemasonry as well.
-Nobody’s Listening to me
People value their voice and the ability to be heard during a discussion. If we’re not getting the input of all of our members, because they’re either not being challenged to give an opinion, or there are members that are dominating the discussion, they might be feeling like their opinions don’t matter. If my opinion doesn’t matter, then why should I keep coming to lodge?
Make sure that if you notice this pattern occurring, that you address it with the Worshipful Master. Encourage him to let those that hardly discuss items to be allowed the floor when they do want to voice their opinion over those who voice theirs all the time. Also engage them in the conversation. Ask their opinion if they are not normally giving theirs. Ask them to serve on committees in order to engage them, so they can feel like they are making a difference.
-We’re sick of hearing about values or mission statements
Actions speak louder than words. We know that we are supposed to be taking good men and making them better. We understand that we need to live according to the tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
We’re not here to listen to you arguing about bills, pancake breakfasts, or other banal items during a stated meeting. We’re impressed with actions and service. If we’re not going to actually work on making ourselves better through education then why am I sticking around? If we discuss Brotherhood, but nobody wants to enjoy fellowship outside of a lodge room, then I feel like I’ve been lied to.
-Charity and community service isn’t a priority
Freemasonry has become self-centered and typically American. We spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings, doing degree work, and practicing ritual. We don’t spend enough time to help our community or charity.
Ask your members what you can do to improve your community. Create service dates once a month or more where members can do community service. Use fundraisers to raise money for Charity, not for lodge repairs or improvements. (If you need money, you need to think about raising dues).
-Stop the blame game
As I mentioned above, everyone has a different reason as to why we’re “declining”. I’ve listed multiple reasons above. However, it’s easier to blame something else than to take a hard look in the mirror and focus on issues within our organization.
Stop blaming everything or everyone else. Examine what’s going on in your lodge. Focus on solving those issues and making a real impact in your community. Use the lessons of Freemasonry to teach members why Freemasonry is still relevant and can be beneficial in today’s world.
-Stop the cliques and check your ego at the door
One of the highlights of being a District Education Officer is that I was able to visit every lodge in my district along with my District Deputy Grand Master on his official visits. It also gave me some insight. I visited some lodges that were getting a lot of new membership, and some that hadn’t had any degree work in a few years. The difference between the lodges was that the ones that were having growth didn’t take themselves too seriously. There wasn’t any ego, and it wasn’t just a group of old men sitting around complaining about the state of the world. There weren’t any cliques. I didn’t get the feeling that I was missing some private jokes, or that I was on the outside looking in. They enjoyed each other’s fellowship and planned social events outside of lodge that included everyone. It wasn’t just a few members going to get a beer after a meeting.
Challenge your membership to engage each other on a personal level. Make sure that if you see brothers egos ruling their passions that you inform them that they are out of line. Take the opportunity to start activities to engage fellowship. For example, if you’re not having a meal before lodge, start having one. Discuss events with the membership and get their feedback on what things would get them to come out outside of stated meetings. Make a goal of having one event outside of meetings a month to bring together the membership and their families.
-Misallocation of Resources
Your lodge has several types of resources that it can tap into. There is the physical such as the lodge building, there is the membership, and there is the financial. I get really angry when I hear older members complain about the price of internet because it’s not being used except for meetings and degree work, yet they don’t bat an eye at the Power, Water or Sewage bills. I consider the internet a utility, like power or water, whereas they think of it as a luxury. To them it’s a misallocation of lodge funds, when in mind it’s not. They probably get angry at me when I dare question giving Job’s Daughters, DeMolay, Rainbow Girls or other organizations that aren’t even active in our area a hundred dollars for a full page ad in a program because “that’s what we’ve always given them.” Really? The 100 dollars you’re basically throwing away to an organization that isn’t in our area is okay? How much food could that money buy for our local foodbank? If you want to be frugal, that’s fine, but don’t cry about how much money the internet is costing and then turn around and spend 500 dollars a year on buying ads for every other body that asks for money. This is just one example. Aside from how we use our financial resources, are we tapping into the talents of our membership? I belong to a lodge where we have a graduate of a culinary school, and one who is attending one currently. When they make meals for degrees, it is amazing. We’re not using their talents enough. In the same lodge, we have a former police officer. For education at an upcoming meeting, I’d love for him to give some self-defense lessons or tips. Lastly, if we’re only using our wonderful building for degrees and meetings, then we’re not really using the building. It goes back to no one wanting to enjoy fellowship outside of the normal meetings.
If you want to be frugal, then create an environment of frugality. Otherwise, stop complaining about how money is being spent. Challenge the membership to think about how the money is being spent. Couldn’t the money spent on an ad help the community instead? Couldn’t the individual talents of the membership be used to help improve the lodge experience itself? Lastly, let’s make our lodge rooms an environment where we can spend time in fellowship outside of meetings. If some of the money that you’re spending badly could be spent to buy something that might help this cause, like a billiards table, discuss the benefits of doing so.
-We want to be educated and mentored, not scolded.
Remember that first time you were put into a chair in lodge because you barely made quorum? For many of us, this was our first meeting. Then remember how you felt when after the meeting the Past Master that came up to you to tell you everything you did wrong? Remember how that made you feel? I remember seriously debating not coming back to a meeting. Remember all of the meetings that you sat through where you debated repairs for the lodge building for 90 minutes, and by the time education came about, it was tabled because the meeting was running too long?
Encourage your older members to mentor the newer members. They don’t need to be scolded. Don’t tell them what we’re doing wrong. Mentor them. Teach them how to do it by showing them, and be patient with them when they don’t immediately learn. You’ve had years of experience at perfecting a toe to toe turn. They’ve just tried it for the first time a minute ago. Pair up with them one on one. Also, Make Education a priority at your meetings. Remember that education doesn’t necessarily need to be Masonic. Anything that improves you as a man is education. If you’re waiting until the end of a meeting and it’s being skipped, try to make it the first order of business.
-We need to value all of our members
This goes back to some things I’ve already addressed. Just because I’m shy doesn’t mean that I don’t have a voice. Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m entitled. Every member has a particular skill set that can be used to improve the experience of other members and the lodge in particular. Don’t stereotype other members because of their age. This goes both ways. Older members can still contribute in meaningful ways even if they are not as mobile as they once were. There are dozens of untapped stories that these members can tell, if you only engaged them and ask them.
We need to give every member a job to do. Whether this means sitting in an officer’s chair, serving on a committee or letting them talk about their life experiences as the lodge education for an evening. We need to remember that every member is an untapped resource that can help your lodge. Let’s start using them.
-Get out into the Public
Freemasonry is already fighting an uphill battle. The internet has enabled a way to spread information (or disinformation) instantaneously. This applies to Freemasonry like it applies to any other topic. The fact of the matter is that the public perception of Freemasonry is probably not as favorable as we’d like. We need to focus on changing this.
We need to be working with the schools, local government and engaging the public to see how we can contribute to making our communities better. If there is a public event, we should have a major presence at it.
We’re failing to adapt
The data shows that we’re doing something wrong in regards to membership. We’re not doing enough to attract the millennials that everyone seems to see as the elixir of life for the craft. We’re not doing a good job attracting any other generation either it seems. We need to start to examine the “landmarks”, and see if the rules written centuries ago are still applicable in today’s day and age. Many of them are causing us to be complacent as a fraternity, and increasingly irrelevant and that is why we are approaching extinction. The majority of our membership is aging and dying off. We need to stem the tide before it’s too late.
Look at the data and take a risk. Albert Einstein said that: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” We can’t keep doing what we’re doing and expecting members to start pouring through the doors. This might mean that we need to start examining the “landmarks” and starting the discussion surrounding admitting women or atheists * 😱* and if that is something that we need to start to seriously consider. We need to start using programs like the invitation to petition program (something that I’m not sure exists in other jurisdictions but exists in Illinois) to reach out to potential members in your community that you know and think would be good and active Masons. The idea of 2B1ASK1 is absurd. We need to start targeting individuals and inviting them to join us.
I hope that I’ve at least gotten your attention, even if you don’t necessarily agree with me. At the very least, starting a dialogue between the members of your lodge and yourself is essential to making changes. I talked about fixing Freemasonry at the beginning of this article. What I didn’t say is that you can’t fix Freemasonry from the Top down. You can only control what is happening in your own lodge or lodges. Once you fix those problems, then you can slowly start looking at how to apply your successful ideas (and what you learned from your unsuccessful ones) to the other lodges in your district. Then maybe neighboring districts, then maybe your area. By this time, your Grand Lodge should be taking notice, and maybe your ideas can be applied state wide. You’ll never know unless you try. We have to try.
Authored by: WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Re-posted (With author’s permission) from “The Midnight Freemason” May 9, 2019