Once you can get yourself to accept the fact that Freemasonry is Dying, then perhaps some progress can be made in downsizing, consolidating, making Appendant Bodies stand on their own, raising dues significantly and other acts of resuscitation. Terminally ill patients require drastic and sometimes untried measures to save them.
What’s that you say? You don’t think Freemasonry is dying? Brother Lance Kennedy will show you the facts. Facts don’t lie.
THE DECLINE OF FREEMASONRY: A DATA ANALYSIS
Brother Lance Kennedy
“He who is not angry when there is just cause to be angry is immoral.”
We hear the word “decline” whispered and spoken in low tones in our halls. No one dares speak it aloud as it may invoke the demons we seek to banish. Instead our collective body spins its wheels with failed programs and a constant rehashing of mid-20th-century mediocrity. The anxiety amongst the tribe of men called Freemasons is palatable. Will we see the end of Freemasonry in our lifetimes?
While I am tempted to delve into the reasons behind our decline, and without a doubt we are experiencing such a trend, as well as prescribe remedies for our communal ills, this article will focus solely on the factual basis of our decline and nothing more. We must come to terms with the state of our fraternity before we can discuss the reasons behind our demise and the means by which we can save it from the fate experienced by the Odd Fellows, Elks, Moose Lodges, and numerous other fraternal organizations.
I want to make it abundantly clear that the body-Masonic is dying. Dying. Say that word aloud several times until you realize that the fraternity that has given you so much joy, provided charitable relief to countless millions, and initiated millions of men into the Western Mystery Tradition is dying. Dying. And dying a slow and ignominious death despite mandatory open houses, “come as you are” attitudes towards dress and appearance, and quick and easy initiations.
I know you want me to stop waxing poetic and get to the data, so without further ado I will present you with my basic findings. I have taken for my analysis the raw data compiled by the Masonic Service Association of North America (MSANA) of the totals of Masons in United States Grand Lodges for the fiscal years indicated. According to the MSANA, these figures are based upon the MSANA’s records and do not necessarily correspond exactly with those published by other sources.
The data referenced in this article was made available by and with the permission of the MSANA. I spoke with Simon R. LaPlace, Past Grand Master of Connecticut and Executive Secretary of the MSANA, who permitted me to reference him in this article. Brother LaPlace stated that MSANA’s membership numbers are requested from each US and Canadian Grand Lodge. Each Grand Lodge uses different metrics to determine who should be counted. For example, some Grand Lodges include Entered Apprentices in their overall numbers. Some Grand Lodges count only the number of Masons in their jurisdiction while others count each Mason in every lodge (e.g., a Brother who is a member of two lodges is counted twice). Also, the numbers submitted to MSANA can vary according to the time of year and do not always reflect the year-end total.
Brother LaPlace stated that the greatest inaccuracies in submitted reports occur when Grand Lodges change Grand Secretaries. He cited one instance where a Grand Secretary did not include endowed members in his annual report, so membership numbers in his jurisdiction decreased significantly. However, his successor in office included endowed members in his report, thus inflating numbers from the prior submission. While the numbers MSANA provided are not perfect, they are the best numbers available for this sort of analysis. I cannot claim that they are exact or predictive, but rather helpful in making educated generalizations about the state of our Fraternity.
We can debate whether the apogee of Freemasonry in the US was when it held the greatest influence, political or otherwise, or rather when the largest percentage of US males were Masons in absolute terms or as a percentage of the population. While it may be beneficial to debate this point, I do not believe it is necessary to do so at this time. For the sake of this analysis, I define the word “apogee” as the absolute number of Masons.
In terms of absolute numbers, Freemasonry reached its apogee in the fiscal year 1959 when 4,103,161 American men were Masons. The raw data is attached to the bottom of this article, which includes the fiscal year, the absolute number of Masons, the absolute number of Masons lost, and the percentage loss. The data shows a steady decline in the reported number of Freemasons since 1959.
On average, each year reflects a decrease of around 50,000 Masons. Currently there are around one million Freemasons in the US and if the trend continues, our collective numbers will drop below one million in one and a half years, reaching post-Civil War levels. The chart above reflects a sigmoid function or “S-curve.” S-curves exhibit a progression from a small beginning that accelerates as it approaches a climax over time, then levels off in its mature phase. While the overall downward trend is troubling, the real issue is reflected in this second chart.
The second chart details the loss of Masons in absolute terms. Numerical losses for the fiscal year 1974 were the largest recorded, though this number might be a result of reporting errors. From fiscal year 1974 to 2013 the average percentage lost per year was 2.693%. What is troubling is that since 2013 the losses have begun to increase again.
As previously mentioned, the data shows that Masonic membership trends generally follow an S-curve. If it were a true S-curve our current yearly losses would amount to a decline of around 1%, however, the average rate of loss from 2013 to 2017 was 3.795% as reflected in the third chart. If this rate of loss continues, we will see a collapse of our membership rather than the leveling off that a S-curve would predict.
The US has historically had a very large Masonic population, both in absolute and percentage terms, compared with European nations. In European countries, Masons account for around 1% of the male population between 18 and 65 years of age. In the US membership is approaching this number, around 1.08%, however, the loss of membership between 2013 to 2017 is much higher than expected. If this trend continues between 2018 and 2022 the situation will go from bad to critical. Freemasons will account for less than 1% of the US adult-male population and will become virtually insignificant as an institution.
In the introduction to this article I told you to repeat the word “dying” to yourself. Do it again.
Dying. Dying. Dying.
Our fraternity is dying. While I will not diagnose the causes or cures for our ailing condition in this article, it is necessary for every Mason to come to terms with our present state. This awareness was the goal of this article and I hope you will take a moment to soberly ponder the very real possibility that Freemasonry in the US will go the way of the Elks or Odd Fellows, that is into the fraternal graveyard.
However, I am hopeful that we will heal our present malaise with the salve of the mysteries. Instead of becoming a Rotary club with regalia, we will reignite the fires of Initiation and case off the shackles of mediocrity.
Brent Morris, “Boom to Bust in the Twentieth Century: Freemasonry and American Fraternities,” 1988 Anson Jones Lecture, Transactions of the Texas Lodge of Research, 23(1987–88):142–62.
John Belton, “The Missing Master Mason,” 1992 Kellerman Lecture for Victoria, Proceedings of the 1992 Australian Masonic Research Council Conference, Melbourne,
About The author
Lance Kennedy is a Texas Freemason, a writer, military officer, attorney, Ivy League graduate, and seventh-generation Texan.
Brother Kennedy was raised in 2007. He is an Endowed member of University Lodge 1190 and Highland Park Lodge 1150 (Grand Lodge of Texas, AF & AM); member of The Harvard Lodge (Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, AF & AM); full member of the Texas Lodge of Research; 32nd Degree Mason and member of the Valley of Dallas, Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction; Knight Templar and member of the Dallas Commandery; member of the Scottish Rite Research Society.