Increasing Membership The Right Way

Once again the cries of a “membership crisis” resound across the Masonic landscape. The question is will Freemasonry double down on what has failed its ability to add new members? Will it continue to try to market the Craft in order to bring in new members? Will it continue to corrupt Masonic charity by making it a tool of Masonic awareness and publicity?

Freemasonry is a personal journey. Yes there is brotherhood bonding and yes there are family gatherings under the square and compass. But the Lodge is not a men’s social club dedicated to curing the ills and failings of society. Freemasonry is a personal journey to better a man’s life.

When Freemasonry either uses the community for cheap publicity or parades itself about in the public eye for the purpose of hyping membership, it not only cheapens itself but it takes away from the practice of Freemasonry itself. Spending an inordinate time and money on marketing the Craft makes for a diminished and cheapened product, the product you are trying to sell being Freemasonry.

Read: The Death of Freemasonry: When Change Changes You

When Freemasonry is practiced poorly you end up with a retention problem. You can bring candidates in by the ton but unrealized expectations won’t convince them to stay.

The answer is not to try to market Freemasonry but instead improve the product, the practice of Freemasonry, to the point where it sells itself. Don’t put the cart before the horse. You can’t talk about how great Freemasonry is until you do a good job of practicing it. Don’t spend all your time and money trying to market a poor product, spend your time and money on making the product better. With a superior product, something they cannot find elsewhere, people will beat down your doors to get in.

So put on great degrees, insure good mentoring, provide extensive Masonic education, see to it that there is great fellowship and perform some meaningful community service or individual aid without expecting anything in return.

Even then Freemasonry may not sell itself. The path to success in building membership is to be pro active as an individual, one on one with those whom you come in contact with that are worthy. Don’t try to mass sell Freemasonry! Sell it one on one and by example.

How often have you heard a man say that when he was young he looked up to leaders in the community who had an aura of goodness and kindness and humility? And then he found out that what formed their lives to be such honorable men was Freemasonry. Such men were Ambassadors for Freemasonry.

So consciously work at building your membership individually. Keep Freemasonry a personal journey to be shared with others who are worthy who wish to improve their personal journey. Make your Lodge the greatest expression of Freemasonry that you can. Then and only then invite others to join you that they may see the light also.

How do you actually go about this? We turn to some suggestions from RW Bro. Hugh Goldie whose paper appeared on Canadian Brother Wayne Anderson’s Weekly Newsletter. Once again to get on Brother Anderson’s mailing list get in touch with him at

R.W.Bro Hugh Goldie, DDGM, Frontenac District, Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario, speaking at his Official Visit to Prince of Wales Lodge No. 157, Napanee, Ontario, 07 November 2012

At your meeting back in September I was happy to hear that you had started a Membership initiative and I would be happy to tell you tonight that I have all the answers you need to increase your membership. I wish I did, however I would like to share with you some research and reading I have done on this matter.

Having participated in membership drives I can tell you it is a thankless job when your efforts just seem to be futile.

I have done some reading of Scott Geinsberg who is known as the name tag guy and great brain candy you can download his books free they are thought provoking and inspirational. He has tried to analyze how to be successful in membership drives.

Number one fact you can’t force people to join your organization.

What you can do is increase the probability that people will join – simply by making yourself, your people and your organization more joinable.

That means new approaches are required. And if you want to reach the people who matter, consider this counter-intuitive suggestion:

Instead of getting people to join you – try joining them first.

Lets explore some ways to join people first:

Figure out why people are

It doesn’t matter what people do for a living – it only matters why they do it. That’s what defines people. That’s what drives them to contribute.

And if you want people to join first, I suggest you touch the center of their why. Even if it’s as simple as asking them, “Why do you do what you do?”

You’d be amazed how telling this question is. And the cool part is, once you have their answer, you can connect their why to the organization you represent.

Involvement isn’t something you can force upon people. People always make time for what’s important to them. Which means, if they aren’t joining your organization, it might not be your fault. It might have nothing to do with you.

Maybe Wednesday night is a terrible time for them to attend lodge functions because their kids have soccer practice.

Or, maybe they’re just out of college and can’t commit to monthly meetings because they’d rather go to the gym or be with their friends.

It doesn’t mean they don’t like you – it just means they have different priorities. In the book Brains on Fire, Robbin Phillips writes about this very idea, “It’s not about how people fit into your plan – but rather about how you fit into their lives.”

Develop and harness a powerful, sustainable word-of-mouth movement
Try this: Instead of assuming people are apathetic, uncommitted heathens, ask them how your organization might become a part of their schedule.

Then, once you’ve gathered consensus, consider giving an alternative to your activity schedule to accommodate a diverse group of member priorities.

If the first Monday or Tuesday of the month doesn’t fit maybe the neighboring lodge who meets on the second Thursday or Friday may. We should not always think of membership as just a lodge exercise we want to look at new membership globally.

Are you starting with the member in mind or just starting with the member?

Hang on their home turf

Recruiting efforts could include breaking bread with potential members. I’d take that over a phone call any day.
Meet people for lunch at their office or in their neighborhood. It’s a better window into their world. That’s a smoother transition from “How are you?” to “Who are you?”

Maybe meet at a prospective candidates’ home. That’s the big win: When you meet their families. Eat their food. Hang on their turf. And we might talk about joining – we might not.

The point is to meet people where they are. Literally. Sure beats sitting on your backside with crossed fingers and high hopes.

Learn people’s learning styles

Not everyone needs to come to every meeting. Maybe they prefer small group meetings. Maybe they’re homebodies who’d rather just occasionally participate in meetings.

It Doesn’t make them any less of a member. It just means they process information differently. And only when you understand these preferences can you tailor your messages accordingly.

Use Less outreach, more in-break

In the book Jim and Casper Go to Church, you learn the difference between “outreaching,” which is inviting people to join your group, and “in-breaking,” which is joining an existing community action and getting to know them leveraging common ideas to entice them that they would be a good addition to your organization.

Try this: Consider the types of members you hope to attract. What groups are they already a part of? What role in the community do they currently occupy? Create a game plan to take a more active role in those spaces. People will notice.

Remember: Your members shouldn’t have to adjust to you. You need to adapt for them. Whose life are you willing to become a part of?

Discover their desired way to contribute

Instead of laying a guilt trip on potential members for not devoting every waking moment of their life to your organization, try asking them how they’d like to contribute.

After all, that’s why people join: To give back. To add value to others, to the organization and to the world.

The trick is, not everyone contributes the same way. At work Personally, I despise meetings. They are the bane of my existence. And I refuse to waste my valuable (and billable) time sitting around a table with seven people trying to figure out what meetings we should schedule and how often.

On the other hand I am schedule driven and process orientated if you want to prioritize work with a solid logic and good processes this is the principle instrument of my contribution.

No problem. I’m your man.

Your challenge is to dive into the lives of the people around you. To join them by discovering and honoring their desired way to contribute. Do so, and you’ll be surprised what they’re willing to give to your organization. How are you helping people help you?

Find out what joining looks like to them

Everybody joins differently. A single guy in his thirties approaches joining a group differently than retired widower in his sixties. And if you’ve read Bowling Alone, you know that some people aren’t even joiners at all.

Bowling alone talks about how the number of bowlers is rising but the number of teams and leagues are dropping.

Our lifestyles and electronic devices promote isolation and not group or community involvement.

Therefore: If we seek to reach a diverse group of new members, you have to go out of your way to find out how people prefer to join. Without this information, your outreach efforts fall on deaf ears.

I don’t care that we have the greatest organization in the world. If you’re leaving voice mail messages on a potential member’s phone, odds are he will never, ever call you back. You may as well be winking in the dark.

The reality is some people just want to pay their dues, show up to five meetings a year and get on with their lives.

They’re never going to volunteer.
They’re never going to win member of the year.
They’re never going to be District Deputy Grand Master.

No matter how many members nominate them.

As a leader, you need to be okay with this reality. Stop compartmentalizing people into convenient little personality boxes and just let them join as they see fit.

REMEMBER: There are people out there just dying to join us

And they will.

As long as you’re willing to join them first.

Whom did you join last week?

Again the question Why isn’t anybody joining our organization?!”

That’s a frustrating question for any leader to ask.

Our meeting attendance is down, new membership is slow  and the attitude is bordering on apathetic.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. And to the dismay of your diabetic members, it doesn’t involve a bake sale.

HERE’S THE REALITY again – you can’t make anybody join you.

All you can do is increase the probability of new people joining your organization and I repeat by making yourself, your members and your group more JOIN-ABLE.

A bumper sticker announcing “to be one ask one” does not do it

Nobody is going to chase your car to join

Lets find out how:

Start with yourself

Think of the last three organizations, clubs or groups you joined. How easy were they to join? What was the deciding factor? What reservations did you have about joining?

Make a chart. Write the answers out. Look for commonalities. Then brainstorm three action items for each attribute of join-able organizations. Begin executing them today. Is our organization user friendly to join? Why did YOU join?

Take the first step

“Are you getting people to join you, or are you trying to join them first?” In this instance, proactivity is the secret. Sticking yourself out there is the way.

After all, approach ability is a two-way street. Your mission is to give people permission.

Every one of us I’m sure knows someone that would be a good candidate, guess what they are not going to approach you, you have to approach them indirectly.

Help people feel a sense of self-achievement.,

“Remember people’s psychological drive and primary need to accomplish things.”

make a list called, “Top Ten Things My Members Want to Accomplish.”

Then, match group behaviors to desires. Think about what, specifically, your group is providing to help your people accomplish those things. How are you helping your members put check marks next to their goals?

Sit people down

Shockingly enough, the best way to find out what people want is to ASK THEM. Asking questions. Having lunches. Kissing babies. Whatever it takes.

Then, during one-on-one meeting with members, past members or potential members, ask the following questions: “What would bring you back?” and “When you used to come to meetings, what, specifically, were we providing you?”

You might also ask people to complete the following sentence three times: “As a member, I would come if (x).” “As a member, I would come if (x).” Whichever approach you choose, here’s the reality: Regardless of current attendance or membership, there WAS a moment when people DID care, and DID come. As their leader, you have the power to create that again.

It’s simple: Pick up the phone, set up a lunch, sit down with someone, honestly ask for their help, staple your tongue to the roof of your mouth and take copious notes. Remember: People want to be in the mix with something meaningful. That’s how you drive members back.

The speed of the response IS the response

Be actively responsive to inquiries about membership. Respond to member impatience with Phrases That Pay like “Right away,” “The best way to help you right now” and “How can I help you the most?”

This demonstrates urgency through your language and reinforces emotional reliability. Especially when people want answers NOW, or, in many cases, last Tuesday. Remember: When your words to promote insistence – but aren’t hurried – people become relaxed and ready to join. How quickly do you return calls?

Nourish their interests

Remember: Belonging has a strong emotion – appeal to it.

Create opportunities to dive and dig deep

Superficiality works for about twenty minutes. After that, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. The meat and potatoes. The tofu and veggies. Your mission is to make sure your meetings; websites and materials provide sustainable, practical and actionable value.

“How do you direct your creative thinking to create value?”

That one question helps to dive and dig deep into the heart of a key challenge. How does your group give its members conversational shovels?

Make it easy to contribute

People derive psychological satisfaction from doing so. Your goal is to (not only) make contribution easy – but to continually recognize people’s contributions as they come in. This cycle of affirmation encourages people to return with more keepers each time.

Be sure to create a question-friendly environment. Give new people space to share. Work on boosting your ask ability. And never forget to acknowledge the newbies. They might have a contribution the likes of which your organization has never seen. Whose voice are you unintentionally silencing?

Take Home Value

Here’s how it works: At the end of every meeting ask each member what was there best “keepers” of the meeting. Or what was there most throw away part of the meeting. It’s invaluable for several reasons.

First, you get a chance to see how people interpret the same ideas in different ways. Secondly, you don’t have to remember anything. Finally, when you see your own positives and negatives, your sense of contribution is reaffirmed.

Leave your members with something to look forward to the next meeting.

I challenge you to incorporate this process into your meetings.
When you deliver take-home value, you win. Your members win. Your lodge wins. How are you making it easy for your members to make positive withdrawals from your organization?

Try holding a focus group let the members talk and interact freely do not interrupt and make sure the senior members do not interject with the Wisdom of Solomon on why we can’t do something. Listen and listen intently these are your members, the life of our organization.

REMEMBER: You can’t make anybody join you

All you can do is increase the probability of new people joining the organization by making yourself, your members and your group more JOINABLE.

I have always thought that we do not present a joinable organization; we do not freely communicate the positives to potential candidates. We do not go out and look for potential candidates. We sit back complain about decreasing or nonexistent membership and wait for candidates to come and knock on our door.

This isn’t going to happen.

I think the membership numbers prove that this does not work.

I returned home last night from Minden lodge meeting and as I was having my cup of tea before bed turned on the TV and watched The Big Decision with Jim Treliving. He is asked to help failing companies. I was surprised at the parallels in business to our position of membership.

He clearly told the company; if people don’t know what your company is or what it does your never going to sell your widgets no matter how good they are.

And people who you want to invest in your company need to know what the return on investment for them is.

Brethren are we selling a good widget and making a good return on investment?

Do our potential investors know this?

One of the biggest questions today is who the membership committee is?

Well the surprising answer is it’s you no one else.

Each and every member is the membership committee

I don’t ask anyone to go and ask all their friends to join, but you can talk up the positives that you enjoy from membership leaving them with a positive spin and leave them asking the question, why am I not a member and how can I join.

Plant the seed in their mind that their life is incomplete without the advantages of membership in masonry.

Tell them how you enjoyed the last meeting, the visitations that you have done, the good charity work you are doing in your community.

Develop and harness a powerful, sustainable word-of-mouth movement and Brethren be determined to succeed.

It is not what we eat, but what we digest … that makes us strong.

It is not what we earn, but what we save … that makes us rich.

It is not what we read, but what we remember … that makes us learned.

It is not what we profess, but what we practice … that makes us Masons!

-Brother Pete Rasmussen

When Is It Necessary To Change?

mailing labels, dues cards, membership card, how to make membership cardsAmong the nonprofit organizations I belong to, there is one where I serve as secretary of the local branch. Like any nonprofit, there are records to be maintained, dues notices to be issued, reports to be filed with headquarters, minutes to be taken, and different mailings made to the membership. It’s not exactly rocket science. When I assumed office, I implemented a data base management system (DBMS) to track membership records and generate reports and mailing labels. I also send as much documentation as possible by e-mail in order to save money on postage and printing costs. All of this has saved us considerable time, effort, and money.

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed our headquarters has changed the way they produce the annual dues cards and notices for the local branches. Prior to this, the dues notices were printed on a 80 column high speed printer on special carbon stock that formed an envelope and insert. All that was necessary was to burst the envelopes along the perforation marks, slap a stamp on it, and throw it in the mail. The envelope and enclosed dues notice may not have been graphically dazzling, but it worked quite well for many years. Likewise, dues cards were printed on the same high-speed printer which were also burst and separated along perforation marks. Again, the card wasn’t the most elegant from a graphical perspective, but it wasn’t bad either.

This all changed recently where the dues notices, cards, and mailing labels are now printed on special stock and are graphically impressive. The problem though is they are cumbersome to separate, fold, and insert in envelopes (which we now have to purchase separately). In other words, what was once a relatively simple task had become more labor intensive, costing more time and money to perform. The big question is, Why? What was headquarters trying to accomplish? To perhaps produce a better looking card that is stored and forgotten in a wallet? To produce a better looking dues notice for the post office? As someone who has been in the systems business for a number of years, I suspect the old approach was considerably cheaper to perform.

The scenario I describe herein happens every day not just in nonprofit organizations, but in corporations around the world. If anything is constant, it is change (Bryce’s Law). We live in a perpetual state of change where our systems change, our businesses change, our people change, and our technology changes. Change is natural and can be caused by a variety of reasons, such as government regulations, competition, economics, etc. The point is, you change when it is absolutely necessary to do so, not just because you contrarily feel like doing so. Change for the sake of change is madness. The example I describe is one where change is implemented merely to appear fashionable. There was no other reason as the old approach was working just fine, thank you. The point is, you should change only when it is cost effective to do so. This means it is necessary to demonstratively prove you offer a better solution; saving money or time, or perhaps a totally new avenue aimed at addressing specific business needs. In the case I described, I do not believe the developers did their homework and, because of this, have complicated the lives of many branch secretaries; all because someone wanted to show he was being fashionable with technology, which is perhaps the worst reason for change (yet is quite common). Always remember, there is a heavy price to pay for keeping up with the Jones’.

I can tell you authoritatively, whoever redesigned the dues notices and cards at headquarters was certainly not a systems man. Probably nothing more than a glorified programmer in sheep’s clothing.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

For Tim’s columns, see:

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 7:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Freemasonry and the Great Depression

This was originally published in January of 2009 on the Masonic Traveler blog.

Freemasonry moves through periods of ups and downs. Like the stock market, there are periods of increases and periods of decreases. Peaks and valleys, plateaus, and depressions, which is normal for any system, especially as nothing remains static, motion is a constant.

Even as Masonry exists in the dimming embers of the post World War II correction period of post war fraternal enthusiasm, I started to ponder another phenomenon that ‘may’ be looming on the horizon, and something completely outside of the corporate body of fraternal control.

It’s no surprise that we are in the midst of an economic downturn. Not quite a depression, at least not to every talking head on the television, but the word has been thrown around, and even our most recent unemployment numbers are inching close to that era of saving your money in your mattress and leaping businessmen from corporate towers.  Given the re-visitation to the matter today I’d now consider the state of things as an economic depression for many given the wavering unemployment figures anywhere from 9 to 25%.

In ’09, as today, I stopped to reconsider what this state of things means, from a personal level and from a broader perspective of what it may mean to the fraternity.  What I consulted were the numbers from the MSANA, to see what some of the trends were in the last near 100 years. In particular, I was curious to see was what the effects of the Great Depression were in relationship to membership levels in America.

In that period, between 1929 and 1939 (the period of the depression, the membership loss amounted to almost 1 million members from 3,295,125 down to 2,482,291 – a total of 821,834.

How that number came about is difficult to assume.  What is obvious is that 1929 and 1930 were relatively stable years.  but 1931 onward began a domino effect decrease that lasted for a decade.  There could be any number of variables in that equation, large attrition from earlier member bubbles (say 50 years earlier +/-), a loss due to changes in society with the post World War I boom, or you could extrapolate that it was the economic hardship with the Great Depression that caused the loss.

Important to add, in no period, prior to or after, was there a similar decrease in numbers, until you reach the 1959 water mark, and then the whole of American Freemasonry enters the spiral of decrease where it remains today.  But between 1929 and 1939, with ten years of economic disaster, increasingly fewer jobs, much lower income, and escalating costs – each of these factors in the Depression had toUS Masonic membership have some net effect. As mentioned it wasn’t until 1941 that numbers started to tick back up, slowly which you can see it in the graph of American Masonry from the MSANA numbers (1925-2007). There is a definite drop off that takes place that turns around as, conceivably, the economy turns around.

I found an interesting commentary about this period from the Texas State Historic Society as it related to Texas Freemasonry.

As after most wars, Masonic membership showed a dramatic increase after World War I; in Texas it climbed from 94,000 in 1920 to more than 134,000 in 1929. The Great Depression brought an equally dramatic decline, to a low of 95,000 in 1937. A number of local lodges lost their temples, constructed during the prosperous 1920s, and their membership declined by as much as 60 percent. The waning of the depression and the onset of World War II produced the reinstatement of many former members, and after 1945 thousands of new members joined the lodge. Postwar membership reached 245,000 in 1961

The silver lining in this story is that at some point there was a turn around, that the numbers lost were regained, but nearly 25 years later. In fact, in that same article, it says that the loss was only after a significant increase in membership following the end of W. W. II, and the period of gain-loss-gain netted an almost even amount of members. The only real obstacle was the time in which it happened.

But, the numbers in reflection seem to be missing certain aspects of what the numbers reflect today. That difference was in the eras in which the economic crisis took place. In 1929, national membership was at a healthy 3.25 million members. When you start to factor in a 24% loss from the drop in the economy (a Depression), on top of an already steady loss of 20% per decade for the last 4 decades, it means that Freemasonry stands to potentially lose 44% in the next ten years, and which translates into a loss of 652, 717 members. (44% of 1,483,449 members as of 2007).

This would leave North American Masonry with roughly 830,732 members by 2019. Not devastating, but dramatic, but potentially more dramatic if there is a larger drop due to greater attrition (deaths/demits), and if you consider a possible snowball effect: fewer members leading to fewer meetings which leads to fewer lodges which repeats the cycle fewer members and so on…  The numbers of loss could continue and grow. And, if the trend since 1959 holds up that there will still be a decrease of roughly 20%, meaning the memberships will continue in a downward trend.

What this all means is open to lots of speculation. The change will start becoming more and more evident as more and more lodges close shop as interest in a particular community wanes or is not nurtured. It seems an inevitable reality to the situation at hand, especially when we start to adjust the lens of its perspective as we read the great debate that just recently took place between the Masonic Line‘s Palmetto Bug and the Beehives Fred Milliken. Does a lodge have dominion over its own building, or is the lodge an instrument of the broader Grand Lodge? The discussion has been relevant in recent judicial decisions regarding break away churches and their mother church, with lower courts ruing with the congregations and upper courts with the denominational organization.

Even the debate over this being a corrective period of membership negates the value of those rank swelling members whose past efforts and dues made it possible for the very lodges we reside in today.  Running lean is less a product of managerial ingenuity and more a byproduct of lost marketplace interest.  Running lean can work in manufacturing, but in member  associations?

Will the numbers (and fraternity) trend the way they did in the 1930’s? Does it necessitate the management our own lodges or to give them over to the parent corporation to manage? What will this economic challenge look like by way of the fraternity?  What if it applied a Six Sigma methodology to membership to create a product that meets and exceeds expectations.  This is a business measure, but the mystic tie needs to be quantitative in some fashion, right?

The Great Canopy of the Heavens is falling.

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." - Mark Twain - from the North American Review

I was plugging in some numbers from the MSANA recently to update myself on the trend in membership from my original analysis in 2007, the results of which I published in the piece “So what? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership.”

In it you may, or may not want to, recollect the trend of membership numbers from 1960 to a projected 2010. In the piece, the numbers ran in a more or less steady declination of 20% per decade at an increasing clip.

Given our proximity to the fiscal 2010/2011 calendar, I wanted re-calculate the numbers for 2010, and there is some good news to report, but not without a dire observation.

In the last 10 years, the original work projected a 29% decline, but a recalculated 2010 projection (adding in 1999 in lieu of 2010’s numbers) value comes back at only 26% declination. A 3% change is not enough to turn the tide, but it may offer a glimpse of a changing trend which might push out further projected losses based on continued work to increase that change. Or, the 3% change might just represent a smaller pool from which to pull total losses from, reflecting the overall drop in membership – Fewer members to lose from equating to a lower members loss.

The numbers trued up like this:

1999     to     2000
1,902,588   1,841,169   -61419   -3.2%

2000    to    2001
1,841,169   1,774,200   -66969   -3.63%

2001    to    2002
1,774,200   1,727,505  -46695   -2.63%

2002    to    2003
1,727,505   1,671,255   -56250   -3.25%

2003    to    2004
1,671,255    1,617,032   -54223  -3.24%

2004    to    2005
1,617,032    1,569,812   -47220   -2.92%

2005    to    2006
1,569,812   1,525,131    -44681   -2.84%

2006            2007
1,525,131     1,483,449  -41682   -2.73%

2007    to    2008
1,483,449     1,444,823  -38626  -2.60%

2008    to    2009
1,444,823     1,404,059  -40764  -2.82%

Total Decrease -498,529
– 26% 1999 – 2009

Equating to a 26% net loss – less than the two preceding decades, 1990 – 2000 and the projected 29% at the time of writing the original piece in 2007, which is good news. However, before celebrating, the total loss still represents the overall change in data to fall into the established parameters of an in excess of 20% loss moving into the second decade of the 21st century.

An interesting note, the Grand Lodge of New Mexico and the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island both held positive gains in the 2008/2009 fiscal years with increases of 16 and 143 new members (respectively) over their loss, so clearly these two states are doing something in the right direction.

In the original, I made this observation:

The overall calculation led to an extrapolation, if the fraternity lost on average 560,152 members, per decade – from 2010 to 2020, our national number of members would be under 1 million members at 738,303. In ten more years 2020 to 2030 our national member base would be 178,151.

With the data trending in that manner from 1999 to 2009, it would seem that the observation is bearing out with little change, the 20%+ drop rate is trending right as predicted.

So what do we do about it?

Why Did You Join Freemasonry?

I had the pleasure to meet a elderly gentleman today who was a neighbor of a family member of mine. He was a very polite fellow, with a good measure of mirth and authority, tempered only by a touch difficulty to hear. In the conversation he dropped that he was 78, but you’d never guess it with the way he handled himself in his yard work.

The conversation started, after a quick exchange of pleasantries, with the innocent question to me of “Who was the Mason?” He had obviously noticed the bold square and compass on the back of my car, and it had intrigued him enough to ask about it.

I replied to him with the short reply that “I was so taken”, something any in the know brother should key in to, but I realized in just a few seconds that he wasn’t so taken, and I replied the it was me, with the elevator speech prepping to roll off my tongue, only to have him interrupt me.

“My dad was a Mason” he said with a fond gleam in his eye. “Yeah, he was a 22nd, or 32nd or something…” “I used to know the handshakes, something he told me never to throw out there, or someone would really lay into me”. I smiled to myself as he said it.

“Yeah, I have his Bible inside”.

“A Blue Masonic Bible?” I asked.

“Yeah, a big one, it was his grand-dads before him, and so on…” he trailed off, wistful again.

“I have all his things from the Masons, I’ve wanted to put into a shadow box for years” he said with a near tone of excitement. “His rings, pins, books, and lots of papers” again with a fond look in his eye.

“He had showed me all of it when I was 5, and he treated it with such reverence.” I could tell he was looking back in time. “I remember it like it was yesterday….” His yesterday trailed off for a few seconds, which I jumped on the memory to ask the question looming over us like a tree.

Read: Is 2B1ASK1 Working?

“So how come you never joined?” It felt like a lead weight on a line being thrown at his feet, but I had to ask.

“Oh, he dropped hints several times over the years, even inviting me to join, but I never took him up on it.” He said sounding almost regretful of the missed opportunities of the path that could of been. “I liked to ride motorcycles and hung with a rough crowd, not the kinds that were the Masons I knew. The Masons were all really good guys, and I didn’t think they would like me hanging with the crowds I ran with.”

“Its funny you should say that,” I said, “there are a lot of guys in the fraternity, including those that have bike clubs.”

“Oh I know, it just wasn’t in my cards to do it I suppose, but I have the fondest memories of my dad being in it.” he trailed off, and turned the conversation to the yard work and other mundane aspects of life.

Besides the obvious pleasure at the conversation, the exchange came to me at a time when I was asking the Great Architect some challenging questions: about life, about the fraternity, and my place in it, and its future. I know the last thing on the list is something bigger than any one person can answer, but its always been a burning question for me as I consider it in the face of my sons who I hope to one day join its ranks.

But what the conversation left me to think about, as I resumed the path of the rest of my day, was rather than simply consider why others would want to join, to take a few minutes and ask myself why did I join? Why did I become a Freemason and did it live up to those expectations? What could I do to make it that way?  I’ve personalized it of course, but its a question we can all ask of ourselves.  Why did I join Freemasonry?

The man who I had the conversation with didn’t join for what ever reasons, but his father did, and his father’s father did, and they probably had a hope that this, now elderly, gentleman would too.  But, he didn’t for what ever reasons he had at the time.  His progenitors are not here to ask why they joined, but we can ask ourselves that question.

So why did you decide to join?

Why? C.A.U.S.E. That’s Why

Awhile back the Mainstream Grand Master of Arkansas visited the Grand Session of Arizona.  However, he refused to attend any of the ceremonies or meetings of the Grand Session because there were Black PHA Masons present in a tyled Lodge.  He only attended the Grand Session dinner because it was not a tyled session.

Arkansas is Imploding

I passed on this story when it came out because I had just released the Derek Gordon story not long before and I didn’t want to just sit back and constantly nitpick by taking pot shots at Arkansas every other week.  However further developments in the whole Arkansas approach to Freemasonry compels me to once again comment on the situation in that state. At the same time nobody seems to care or think it applicable to their Freemasonry.  Consequently Arkansas Mainstream keeps on imploding while the rest of us in Freemasonry have no comment nor take any action. So once again The Beehive will report what is happening in hopes that someday, someone will think it important enough to do something.

The Arizona story was published by that fine Masonic blogger “The Burning Taper” in his piece “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” and here is what he had to say on the subject.

It seems many rank-and-file Masons, in many locales, are becoming more and more fed up with the actions of Grand Lodge leaders.

This short article was sent to The Burning Taper recently. The author wishes to remain anonymous, for fear of retribution for reporting events and expressing his opinion.

Arizona Grand Lodge Annual Communication began with the Royal Banquet on Wednesday evening, June 2, 2010 prior to the official opening of proceedings on Thursday morning.

The Head Table consisted of Arizona Grand Lodge officers and their wives. Seated near them were the visiting dignitaries representing various Masonic grand lodge jurisdictions. There were 13 listed on the list handed out to all attending members. Most were “line” officers representing their State or jurisdiction with two currently sitting grand masters.

The two grand masters attending the Banquet were Most Worshipful Martin E. Warren, Grand Master of Masons from the Grand Lodge, F&AM of Arkansas, and Most Worshipful Lewis R. Brent, Grand Master of Masons from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arizona. They were not seated at the same table.

When the Grand Lodge opened in Due Form in the 3rd Degree on Thursday morning the MW Lewis R. Brent from Prince Hall was present, but the MW Martin E. Warren was conspicuously absent. He was not seen in any of the subsequent tiled lodge meetings all day Friday or on Saturday.

It is the custom of the Grand Lodge that, when a pedestal officer (Grand Master, Senior Warden and Junior Warden) leave their stations during the proceedings that they place the Jewel of their office on one of the brothers in the room.

Several times during the proceedings on both days, the Senior Grand Warden Brook Cunningbrook chose a highly decorated Phoenix policeman, who is a member of one of the Arizona F&AM lodges and had been shot in the line of duty, to sit high on the chair located on a pedestal in the West to replace him temporarily. He is black.

There were two other black members of Arizona F&AM lodges present and the Senior Grand Warden had them also replace him in the West. It is quite an honor to do this.

In this case, in my opinion anyway, it was kind of an “in your face” type of gesture to some of the members of the Arizona jurisdiction who have moved to Arizona from one of the 10 states that do not recognize Prince Hall and have complained about having to sit in a lodge with a black man. Whether it was directed towards the Grand Master of Arkansas, I can only speculate.

What’s interesting about this is that the Grand Master of Arkansas spent the money to fly to Arizona only to have dinner. Since it is customary for Grand Lodges to pay for the travel expenses of their grand masters, I wonder if the brethren of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas got their monies worth. Since he did not attend any of the business meetings by sitting in a tiled lodge with a black man but only attended the social functions, it seems to me that he spent a lot of money just for a free dinner and drinks, even if the cost came out of his own pocket.

This obviously was an example of the kind of “Imperial Leadership” prevalent in many jurisdictions and is not restricted to Arkansas alone.

More recently another source, who will remain nameless to protect him from expulsion, alleges that Van Buren Lodge of Mainstream Arkansas planned a visit to view The Oklahoma Native American Indian Degree Team perform in Heavener, Oklahoma. When the Worshipful Master of Van Buren Lodge found out that Black Masons would be present he canceled the trip. Furthermore it is alleged that Arkansas Mainstream Masons present at this decision repeated an Arkansas Grand Lodge directive that prohibits any Masons from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas attending any Masonic functions where Black Masons are present.

This source also contends that the Mainstream Grand Lodge of Arkansas is lying to its membership. He points out that the Grand Lodge Grand Session Minutes of 2010 show lawsuits being won by the GL when if you look for those lawsuits using legal aides, you can see that ARGL lost. Its reminiscent to me of of Orwell’s 1984.

This continuous bloodletting by Mainstream Arkansas has led to the spawning of a support group for suspended and expelled Arkansas Masons. Its name is C.A.U.S.E.


This group meets in secret as any current members of the Grand Lodge would be expelled.  It also is a service only  available to unjustly suspended and expelled Arkansas Masons and specifically excludes any so dropped for moral turpitude.

Its purposes and objectives are:

  1. Support group
  2. Networking
  3. Legal Aid
  4. Education
  5. Repatriation
  6. To get men out of Masonry thinking about Masonry again

C.A.U.S.E. is open to suspended & expelled Arkansas Masons as well as current members who wish to aid such men. While its membership and place and time of meetings cannot be shared with non members, the group will soon have a website.

This group has a start up membership of about 50 men. Currently C.A.U.S.E. leaders are helping the membership with trying to become members in other jurisdictions, lawsuits against Grand Lodge and esoteric discussions and speakers. It must be remembered in the case of civil action it has been alleged that the Grand Lodge of Arkansas has pulled the charter from some wealthy Lodges and closed them down in order to add that wealth to the Grand Lodge coffers.

Remember that when a Mason is unjustly expelled in one jurisdiction the wrong cannot be corrected in another jurisdiction (although C.A.U.S.E. is trying). All Masonic jurisdictions will mutually support one another in their suspensions or expulsions – no matter the reason. Frank Haas has been the only Mason in modern times to crash this barrier and that was just recently.

If you look at how many men are in C.A.U.S.E., which is only weeks old, and then add in former Masons in the same position from other states, you have a rather large group of disaffected Masons nationwide. These are for the most part good, honest men who have been wronged, and who sometimes seem overly angry and bitter.  They are ripe for being picked up by another Obedience, many who are classified as irregular and clandestine by Mainstream Masonry.

These are men who certain Masonic societies and forums will drop from their membership rolls once they have been suspended or expelled.  To be wronged and then to be shunted, ostracized and damned is something that only fuels the fire of bitterness and hatred.

Yet those in power who do wrong are never chastised by their peers.  They are never held accountable for their actions. There is no recourse to correct a run away, rogue Grand Lodge.

The righteous minded, ass kissing, bean counters left in Mainstream Masonry will pontificate that if there are problems in a Grand Lodge then it is only the business of that Grand Lodge and nobody else’s and all that is needed to correct matters is for the Brethren as a whole to vote to change things.

They haven’t met the Arkansas Grand Master who is alleged to have forcibly removed and expelled an 80 year old member from Grand Lodge Session who made a motion that displeased him who is the same Grand Master who is accused of having committing an immoral act that sacks every brother who attempts to bring him up on charges by expelling them without trial.

Where were all these holier than thou Masons when the Grand Master of Arkansas banned Masonic E-Mail? Where were they when Past Grand Master Frank Haas was snookered into coming to a meeting so that the Grand Master could embarrass him by expelling him in front of his father and friends without prior notice?

The other mantra used by those on the inside is, wait awhile, when all the old guys die off, things will change.  In the meantime – don’t rock the boat.  Very bad advice, indeed. There is no reforming Grand Lodges which function as bastions of the KKK who remake themselves anew with each new generation. When any thought, word or deed, and attempt at making things right is met with instant expulsion without a trial then you have a rogue Grand Lodge out of control that is governing its membership as the North Korean government governs its citizens. The only thing that is going to stop a Grand Lodge like this is action from the outside.

C.A.U.S.E. is not standing around and waiting for somebody else to do something.  It is going ahead to first take care of the hearts and souls of those men who have been so unjustly wronged, and then to mitigate some of the damage being done by a Grand Lodge who only thinks of itself and amassing more and more power.

Perhaps this movement will catch on in West Virginia and elsewhere.

Becoming a Dues Paying Mason

dues cardThroughout my entire experience in Freemasonry, I have wondered what can be done to bring those Freemasons that do not attend lodge meetings back into our temples. I found these dues-paying Masons to be a frustrating breed. They must believe that being a Freemason is important enough to continually make a monetary payment to their Masonic organizations and yet it is not important enough for them to actually attend and contribute their time.

I assisted in planning and executing a number of lodge functions in order to bring these silent members back and there seemed to be no response. I began to develop the opinion that these men were simply neglecting their Masonic duties.

And then, I became one of them.

It wasn’t intentional at first. It started by moving to another town, then I became busy with my career, then I lost contact with my closest Brothers, and then before I knew it, Masonry wasn’t even on my mind anymore. Occasionally I would post a story on The Euphrates that I had written while I was active in the lodge, but that was only because it was convenient and could be done in five minutes. I was literally uninterested in Freemasonry.

This sounds like an easy problem to fix. If you aren’t an active Freemason, just attend a lodge meeting and get involved, right?

Wrong. I found out rather quickly that there was nothing motivating me to go back to lodge.

There isn’t anything interesting about a lodge meeting. We pay the bills, plan mundane dinners, and discuss our charitable endeavors. I didn’t join the Freemasons to do any of those things and no one ever told me that that is what we really do when I was petitioning. I stopped caring about Masonry, because Masonry was boring and a complete waste of my time. I realized that the only reason I used to be active was because I enjoyed socializing with the many good friends that I had in my lodge. Without that connection, Masonry was no longer important.

That is the problem with modern Freemasonry. I’ve heard so many Masons say “You’ll meet so many good men in Masonry.” Well, sure you do, but I have also met many good men outside of Freemasonry and the vast majority of my friends do not belong to the fraternity. So that is no reason to join or remain a Freemason.

Many men cannot explain exactly why they want to be a Freemason, but it almost always has the same theme. Men join Freemasonry because they believe that it will lead them to enlightenment both mentally and spiritually, give them some sort of moral compass, and will help them to lead a better life. They expect a top-notch society. One in which all men meet upon the level, but upon a level above the profane world outside of the lodge. They expect an education. They expect class. They expect a life-changing experience.

I know, because that is exactly what I expected.

Sadly, our lodges are stuck in a time warp. We are obsessed with sticking to the 1950’s model of a civic organization. We talk about making our lodges more attractive and yet we continue to operate them in the same outdated way. We want to operate on the cheap. We want to “dumb down” Masonry to make it easier to grasp. We want to copy the model that Rotary and Kiwanis have provided instead of following the model that Freemasonry created over 250 years ago. We have turned our organization into an outrageous bureaucracy where every single event requires the unneeded approval of some Masonic dignitary. The world’s greatest fraternity has become the world’s most mundane organization.

That is the state of Freemasonry today. That is why men become dues-paying Masons. That is why I became a dues-paying Mason. If Freemasons want the society to survive, some radical changes must be made. Over the next few weeks, I am going to discuss this in detail.

The question that must be discussed is: “What must Freemasonry become in order to be relevant in American society again?”

Disillusionment with Freemasonry

The following outlook of Freemasonry was shared with me with much trepidation and concern over its reaction. Permission to publish it was granted if the author could remain Anonymous.

I’ve heard these same words from others in recent months, and it struck me that they were not isolated or merely dissident voices in the wilderness — rather that they were a real malaise that is overtaking the once previously engaged. Disenchantment, disenfranchisement, disappointment, no matter what bucket you quantify it into, I am hearing about these feelings more and more.

Always looking for the silver lining, this would be a good jump off point to explore the sentiment as we proceed to get at its roots. Do you share this same feeling?

Disillusionment with Freemasonry

Understanding the allegories of Freemasonry

After serving the fraternity for over ten years now, I’ve stopped to look back as to what I accomplished and how Freemasonry has changed.  I’ve been through the chairs and served my Lodge faithfully, participating in several work parties, fund raisers, and other events. I’ve been found proficient in degree work and recognized for work in Masonic Education.  I have also participated in several district and state level functions. Thanks to the Internet, I have corresponded with Masons from around the world, listening to their problems as well as their advice. Whenever a Brother asked for help, whether near or far, I leant a helping hand. My Masonic knowledge and experience led me into a position where I was frequently consulted for advice and leadership. It also led me into petty politics where I was confronted by those jealous of my notoriety and stubbornly undermined any effort to upgrade the Lodge and fraternity.  I now look back and ask, “Did I make a difference? Is the fraternity or Lodge better off than when I was first initiated?”

I have slowly come to the realization that the answer is “No.”

I think the reason for this is because I suffered from a false perception of what Freemasonry was all about. As I entered the fraternity, I was under the impression that a True Mason was a man of character, integrity, honor, who possessed an intellectual curiosity about life, a person whose word is his bond. In other words, I perceived Masons as the bedrock of society.

Unfortunately, this is not what I discovered. I have traveled around quite a bit and met many Masons, most of whom are not of this stereotype. In fact, I would estimate less than 1% of our total membership can be characterized in this manner. And therein is where the bubble burst for me.

Read: Ghosts in Lodge

With the exception of those Brothers attempting to establish Traditional Observance (TO) Lodges, I have learned the vast majority of Masons are not serious people. They are more concerned with slapping backs as opposed to doing anything of substance. A lot of Masons will scratch and claw just to get their next apron or title. I tend to believe this is because they never did anything noteworthy in their professional careers and crave attention. In other words, they are trying to build their self-esteem at the cost of their Lodge, a sort of “While Nero fiddled Rome burned” phenomenon. I guess this is why I find it amusing to hear conspiracy theorists try to warn the public of how Freemasonry is trying to dominate the world. Too funny.

The fraternity is dying and nobody is doing anything about it, least of all at the Grand Lodge level. Freemasonry is an institution who stubbornly clings to the past and resists any attempts to change and modernize. It’s decaying before our eyes.

Disillusionment comes when expectations are not met, when beliefs are not realized. Disillusionment leads to frustration which often leads to anger. At some point though, you have to deal with it. As I see it, there are only a few options available:

  1. Stay and passively accept the status quo — representing total surrender.
  2. Stay and continue to try and change the system internally — impossible due to the political stranglehold Grand Lodges hold over the fraternity.
  3. Take a leave of absence — whereby the problems will still be waiting for you when you return.
  4. Resign and start a new strain of Freemasonry — which is very tempting but difficult to do on a large scale.
  5. Resign, lick your wounds and move along with your life.

This last option, unfortunately, is what many men opt to do as opposed to fighting the powers that be.

US Masonic membership

Consider for example our free-falling decline in membership.  Aside from death and transfers, think about those members suspended for nonpayment of dues which in some grand jurisdictions is on the rise. One cannot help but ask why this is occurring. Because of the economy? Perhaps. More likely they are not getting anything meaningful out of Freemasonry.  Even when Grand Masters offer amnesty programs to encourage members to return to the flock, very few do.

Those men who would normally take an active role in Masonry are being driven away in droves due to complacency, apathy, and politics, three ugly words that unfortunately characterize Freemasonry today and causes disillusionment.

Freemasonry has become more of a philanthropy than a fraternity, a political playhouse as opposed to a true brotherhood. It is sad to see a once noble institution crumble before our eyes into an irrelevant institution.

What do you think?  Leave your thoughts below.

So What? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership.

Logo of Freemason Information.

The following was originally published in 2007. It is one of several essays in the book Masonic Traveler, where you can find a more refined and extended version of this missive.

Since this original publication in 2007, the dialog increased only to taper off again to a quiet whisper, if heard anywhere at all. In 2008/9 Stephen Dafoe produced a rebuttal of sorts, not in the context – but in the meaning of the numbers. His conclusions can be found in the article There’s a Hole in our Bucket, but I recommend that you read it after this piece so as to put all the information into context.

Changing Masonic Membership

The question above has been an institutional answer (yes, I said answer) that has plagued Masonry for the last 50 years. When I first heard it’s asking, I wasn’t sure what to think about it. I wasn’t even sure if I should talk about as it seemed like an internal problem, and not the fodder for the rank and file (you and me) to ponder. It wasn’t until my own realization that it was the rank and file that was ultimately the cause and effect of the question AND answer when its implications became clear.

As the adage goes, if you don’t talk about it, how do you fix it? And in such a large fraternity I felt that we absolutely needed to talk about it, NOW.

In doing some research, I found myself at the website for the MSANA, which is the Masonic Service Association of North America which is a national clearinghouse for all things Masonic in North America, but specifically an informational collection agency that gathers data and publishes literature for the overall benefit of the craft.

One of the items I found there were statistics on membership (now in archive) from 1925 to 2005.

The statistics are the national numbers of membership in the United States from 1930-2000 not graphed, but in a pretty uninteresting grid of data.

From a surface analysis what it showed was an early high figure, a dip, a huge growth period, and then a dramatic down trend in membership, specifically from a period of 1960 to close to present day. The graph below was created from this data.

Graph showing the change in masonic lodge membership numbers from 1930 to 2000.

What it charts is the membership numbers from 1925 to 2005.

For a comparison, this graph is the US population in the same period.

U.S. population growth between 1930 and 2000.

Obviously, the numbers are dramatically different – Freemasonry at one to four million and the US population at 100 to almost 300 million, but what it illustrates by contrast is the dramatic rise in US population (about half of which are male +/- 51/49%) and the dramatic decrease to male membership.

What I want to illustrate here is that while the US population has steadily increased, the population of Freemasonry has steadily decreased, substantially.

So to the question, so what?

Most who have been members for a significant time know that the membership of Freemasonry is changing. Lodge rooms are seating fewer and fewer members, old buildings bought and built in the boom era are being sold off as membership roles shrink and charters evaporate. We know that already, this isn’t new information. Every Masonic publication has said this at some point or another – “our numbers are retracting, that we felt a boom with the returning vets of WWII and Korea, and that their numbers swelled our ranks to their record numbers, topping at a height of 4,103,161 in 1959” -the glory days of the ancient and honorable.

But since that high water mark we have been in a steady decline in membership.

Again the question, so what?

The decline of the 1960’s and 70’s is often blamed on the selfish attitudes of the “tuned out” generation, the hippy turned Baby-Boomer, with widespread distrust of past paternal institutions, and a growth in a personal individuality, no one wanted to join, even when they later came of age the attitude of “Forget doing what Daddy did” and “why do I want to be a part of a secret institution of good old boys” prevailed. But was that really the problem?

I’m sure if analyzed in an academic fashion, we could explore the “why Freemasonry changed” notion in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, but I wonder if it would be enough to give us a real answer.

Some have suggested it was the institutional change towards fraternalism. Others suggest that it picked up and patriotic flavor of Americanism with the high number of veterans that came to its ranks. Trying to associate the increase to any one reason is difficult at best.

What the numbers do tell us is that in 10 year intervals, from 1960 to 2005, membership dropped by an average of 560,152 members. On the graph, you can see the decline to 2005. Distilling the numbers, it comes out to an average of a 20% decrease in membership per 10-year period.

By the years it breaks out to:

  • 1959, membership at its height was at 4,103,161
  • 1960 – 1970 there was a loss of 336,006 a decrease of 8.19%
  • 1970 – 1980 there was a loss of 511,685 a decrease of 13.597%
  • 1980 – 1990 there was a loss of 719,885 a decrease of 22.14%
  • 1990 – 2000 there was a loss of 690,474 a decrease of 27.274%
  • 2000 – 2010* there was a loss of 542,714 a decrease of 29.477% (*Calculated by doubling the loss from 2000 to 2005)

Updated numbers at bottom.

The average loss, per year, was 20% (20.2%)

Again the question “so what”, we already know this, these numbers are not secret. They are published in an open forum for the public to see.

The overall calculation led to an extrapolation, if the fraternity lost on average 560,152 members, per decade – from 2010 to 2020, our national number of members would be under 1 million members at 738,303. In ten more years 2020 to 2030 our national member base would be 178,151.

That number again is one hundred and seventy eight thousand one hundred and fifty one TOTAL Freemason’s in North America by 2030, which led me to speculate that the last American Freemason would probably be somewhere in about 2034 or so.

Ok, so this is a worst-case scenario, this is an assumption that we will continue to lose the same 560,000 members a year, due to attrition, brothers passing, or low community interest. The overall numbers tell me that the loss % per year is INCREASING; not decreasing, but maybe the trend is just that, a trend. It should be said that at present, 2005 numbers show our fraternity at numbers lower than the 1925 watermark, when the US population was less than half of what it is today. What appears to be happening is not just a “correction”, that it is not simply the Fraternity going back to the “way things were” at the turn of the 20th century, rather that it is something much worse at play and further outside the scope of our control.

Taken from another angle, we can say that over the same 50-year period, we did average out to a 20% loss per year. These numbers are far less frightening and show a slower descent over the next one hundred years. In 2030, where the first model takes us to extinction in the percentage model we sit at just over 800,000 members. It isn’t until 2130 that we get to fewer than 100,000. But again, that is at a steady 20% decrease no ups, no downs, steady. The trend in the last 50-year cycle has been one of a steady increase in percentage loss, 8.9%, 13.59%, 22.14%, 27.27%, and 29.47%. This model, though more positive, seems less likely.

At the other end of the spectrum, some locations so seem to indicate an upward trend in membership. In areas that lost 4000 members, they took in 2000, diminishing the overall drop, but even these anecdotal statistics only suggest a change in trend without much ability to forecast realistically where the descent will level off.

Again the question, so what?

With those of us left, we become the inheritors of Freemasonry here in America, and need to address the question of what we are going to do about it. I have read a Laudable Pursuit as I am sure many other masons have, I attend meetings, pay my dues, and heed the length of my cable tow, but is that enough?

Are dynamic meetings, meaningful Masonic education, Traditional Observance Lodges, Festive Boards, or low cost spaghetti or fish fry dinners the answer? Are even the boldest Grand Lodge programs such as the Massachusetts Is there Greatness in you? Marketing Campaign or the California Masonic Formation movement, enough? What generated interest in the past?

To answer this question we need to ask what Freemasonry has lost — what component of our fraternity did we lose in the transition of the 1950’s into the 1990’s that closed us off from the moral imagination of society? What changed?

  • Was it the success of the offshoot “clubs” whose focus on charity or drama plays, rather than esoteric transference, took prominence?
  • Did we, institutionally, become afraid of what our own metaphysical/spiritual fraternity represented?
  • Were we marginalized as an increasingly religious America took over, forcing out interfaith institution?
  • Did American Freemasonry fall out of progressive step with the evolving landscape of American women’s issues, and racial equality taking the forefront but still at odds in the fraternity dedicated to the moral high ground?

It was in the periods of transition from the 19th to the 20th century that many esoteric or occult works were created that seem to evoke the spirit of the coming age of Masonry. Did their promise grow silent on the lips of those who took the reins of leadership?

Just a small (yet significant) marker I can point to that symbolically illustrates the transition was the name change of the monthly Scottish Rite Magazine formerly known as the New Age Magazine in 1989.

Its true that in the mid century a degree of quackery took hold of the metaphysical giving birth to an explosion of Self Help and “Occult” practices. Did Masonry’s hasty retreat from all things esoteric help steer the fraternity towards the rocks of fraternal obscurity? Did we become afraid of our own esoteric shadow marginalizing our own traditions effectively doing this to ourselves?

The one thing that so many outsiders look to Freemasonry to provide is a degree of esoteric wisdom and education, yet we can barely articulate to the answer to the simple question of “what does Freemasonry represent”? Our tradition is betwixt pointing one way with progressive learning, equality of faiths, and metaphorical death and members pointing another with social fraternalism, overt patriotism, and faux civic engagement – is it a social club or a path to self enlightenment?

As the numbers continue to descend, some possible scenarios to consider is the separation of the Shrine from the craft lodge system. With the success that the Shrine has enjoyed in this last century, why would they keep the requirement of the Blue Lodge membership, if the blue lodge can barely support itself let alone its drive for localized charity. Especially now in the face of diminished revenue and potential loss of its charitable hospitals. In its present configuration, can it afford to not take in now blue lodge members?

Another scenario is the separation of the Scottish Rite to become its own degree imparting body. What is to keep them from offering the degrees as more Craft lodges start to close? Maybe it makes more sense to pool the resources and go with the bigger temples that the Scottish Rite inhabits. The easy answer is, of course not, but as the feeder blue lodge membership continues to plummet, at what point will desperation take hold and other options become more enticing? Are the American Rites prepared to cease operations if memberships diminish to an unsustainable level?

So what? So what can we do about this?

The most effectual answer I can come up with, individually, to the “SO WHAT” question is nothing.

Masonic advertising on a billboard.

We can, at this point in time do nothing to turn this trend around. No matter how many open houses, public lectures, marketing campaigns, sports sponsorships, television commercials, radio spots, billboards, or finite programs promoted by individual lodges or Grand Lodges will stem the hemorrhage. Even if the blue lodge started giving away memberships, it’s doubtful that we could find enough people who even remembered who the Freemasons are, and even fewer who would want to become one. The damage is already done, and we are now in a free fall that threatens to erase the remains of North American Freemasonry. This means the closure and roll back of individual state Grand Lodges. This will mean the selling of more Masonic properties and assets, and the selling or divesting publicly of our privately funded billion dollar institutions.

This means the end of Freemasonry as we know it today.

But all is not lost and that there are things that we , individually, can do now to start to effect change. The greatest challenge will come in our re-shaping the perception of what the fraternity represents and that its history, both real and imagined, becomes a part of who we are. And by understanding that, we can embrace it and celebrate that diversity and begin to explore those ideas that we left off from a century ago. As a body we can pause and consider out institution and how it relates to its broader impact on civil society. Is OUR venerable institution living up to the promises that our very Rites espouse? Do we treat ALL people equally, no matter of Race, Gender, Religion, or Preference? Are we striving to make social progress?

In the next 30 years the landscape of what we call Regular Freemasonry will be radically different than what we see today. The sooner we come to see that NOW, to talk about it, and confront it head on – the sooner we can start planning on what we want to do about it. Burying our heads in the sand is not the answer and if we continue to insist on doing nothing about it WE will only further hasten OUR demise.

Our generation, RIGHT NOW, is the unwilling inheritor of the future of Freemasonry – what we do NOW dictates how our sons will come to know this ancient institution. If we ignore the problem, there won’t be any institution left.

And, of you who say “So What”, I ask that you look at the numbers for yourself and then draw your own conclusions,

Once you’ve seen them you’ll see that they speak for themselves.

Update – May 21, 2017

  • Period of 2010 – 2015 15.45%.
  • Period of 2005 – 2015 26.02% (calculated).
  • Doubling the loss from 2010-2015 (424,400) to calculate potential loss = 31% change.
  • New estimate at 2020, 949,093 members.

Measure for measure – Pennsylvania and the 21st Century.

Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Weight and volume are very important.  Two evenly measured weights on a opposite pans of a scale and you have a perfect balance, so long as your equipment is calibrated correctly.  Add more weight to one pan and incrementally the scale will move towards which ever side the heavier burden is applied.

Extrapolate this idea into a larger arena where the medium that surrounds the moving weight is fluid, and with the Newtonian force of gravity, the material closest to, and bonded tightest to the weight will move with it, in effect causing an avalanche of sorts, or at least a heightened shift of position.

Perhaps you could say its an Alchemy of sorts, the transmutation from one thing into another, from one state to another.  Neutral buoyancy to weight displacement.  From Lead to Gold, or perhaps in this instance, from Gold to Lead.

I spent some time on Chris Hodapp’s Freemasons for Dummies site  trying to catch up on what has been coming out of Pennsylvania recently on their aptly titled a 21st Century (Masonic) Renaissance page.

Masonic Renaissance
Its quite a paradigm shift in the way things have been to the way things are to be.  What I mean by that is apparently, without much fanfare, the Grand Lodge isn’t just rolling out a few changes for 2010, they are rolling out a battalion of them, for what seems to be for the purpose of improving Pennsylvania Freemasonry and the lives of its members.  All said, in their introduction site, the changes are (by category):

Membership Recruitment
Members May Selectively Invite Good Men to Join
Three Black Balls Are Now Required to Reject a Candidate
One Day Masonic Journey: October 30, 2010 (at 13 locations and with YR, SR, and Shrine)
All-Star Teams Will Confer District-wide Degrees
An Unlimited Number of Freemasons Can Be Made in One Day
Senior Recruitment Program
Lodges Awarded for Membership Growth and Retention

“Call ‘Em All” Will Continue as “Call to the Craft”
Dues Can Now Be Paid By Credit or Debit
Lodge Notices Are To Be Distributed Electronically

Masonic Ritual
Members May Learn Our Ritual From Printed Manuals That Will Be Monitored Closely And Never Used in Open Lodge
Certified Brethren Will Receive a Proficiency Award Pin
Opening and Closing of Meetings May Be Shortened

Grand Lodge Governance
District Deputy Grand Masters May Now Serve 10 Years
Some Masonic Districts Will Be Eliminated and Realigned
A Masonic Congress Will Be Held in February 2010
A New Due Process for Suspensions and Expulsions
The Legal Structure of Grand Lodge Will Be Assessed
New Software Will Simplify the Lodge Audit Process
Committee on Masonic Homes Meeting Change
The Dress Code for Masonic Meetings Is Relaxed

On Image and Visibility
Open Installations of All Symbolic Lodge Officers
Electronic Guide Will Provide Tours of the Masonic Temple
Masonic Villages Adopt-A-Resident Program
Lodges Will Conduct Monthly Community Service
Members Will Commit A Weekly Random Act of Kindness
Members Will Support Our Military Through “HELP FOR OUR HEROES”
Lodges Will Raise Funds to Support Our Masonic Villages
Masonic Youth Initiatives Will Be Supported By Lodges

On the page from the PA GL, they provide a brief explanation of what each change represents, and the hole that it seeks to fill, and while I am having a hard time understanding (agreeing?) with some of them, I have to say that the approach is an inventive and bold addition of weight to a scale that has long been un-moved by any form of change.

Pennsylvania Masonic RestorationBut, this change isn’t without its detractors, and a website has already been published to argue the counter point to the Grand Masters plan, billed as Pennsylvania Masonic Restoration.  While I respect the civil dissent, I have to say that the call to arms may be premature given the nature of the changes the Grand Lodge is trying to implement.

On the 21 Century Renaissance site, it is easy to see the large one day class as BIG CONCERN to an otherwise interesting program and a potential affront to what has traditionally been Masonry the way its “always” been, which is clearly not the case.  Not that one day classes have ever been the norm, the process of Masonry today is an evolved process that had a beginning that came from something else.  It evolved, and this one day mass raising is another step in that evolution for better or worse.  And, I’ll be open here, I have my own misgivings as to the intention of the one day class process, but taken in parcel with the other items, it becomes an easier bitter pill to swallow.

Some of what I do like in the program:

Three Black Balls Are Now Required to Reject a Candidate:
This is a good way to break a singular majority in a solitary vote.  Harmony in the lodge still needs to be met, but giving live or die power to one brother may be to much power in one place.

Dues Can Now Be Paid By Credit or Debit:
This is a fantastic change that really brings things into he 21st Century.

Lodge Notices Are To Be Distributed Electronically:
Another great system/operations update.

A Masonic Congress Will Be Held in February 2010:
This is a great idea and something FmI and Time Bryce have advocated to see for some time.  Perhaps this will lead up to something National.

Lodges Will Conduct Monthly Community Service:
This is a Great program, and my guess is that it will be another hard pill to get down.  Not that there isn’t a level of charity within the membership, but to be told to do is it quite different than doing it out of will and love.  an interesting idea, however, is the opportunity it gives to lodges to explore what that charity looks like, from donating lodge rooms to Boy Scout Troops, hosting voter polling locations, or any other creative measure to give back to the communities from which the membership comes from.

Members Will Commit A Weekly Random Act of Kindness:
This one escapes me, but I like the idea of it.  It has a definite Pay It Forward appeal to it.

Personally, I have some concerns for these items, but I’m sure they are being implemented with the utmost caution.

Members May Selectively Invite Good Men to Join.
One Day Masonic Journey: October 30, 2010.
An Unlimited Number of Freemasons Can Be Made in One Day.
Senior Recruitment Program.

All of these are cause for some alarm, but as I mentioned, to enter into the 21st Century Renaissance, we enter into a period of change, just as Europe did in the post Medieval Renaissance.

Members May Learn Our Ritual From Printed Manuals:
This one concerns me too, in that it would be the first state (to my knowledge) to openly WRITE what had here-to-fore only been given in written cipher.  Despite the warnings and admonitions, the content will be copied and distributed no matter the level of governance and audit processes.  And if not lost in the original content, photocopiers and scanners are very easy to make use of these days (though I do have some security ideas for how to safeguard the material).

All in all, I say lets see what these changes have in store for 2010.  The concerns being what they are, the changes do seem to have the over arching growth and good will of the fraternity in mind.

At first blush, the 21st Century Renaissance seems to be mind blowingly radical, but really, the alchemy is in putting into play the ideas of best practice to bring its large membership in the modern age.  Hopefully the ambitious shift of their weight shift will be a good one and something others will adapt too and continue the Renaissance of the 21st Mason.