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The Components of a Successful Lodge Program

by Abraham Benjamin


Part I - Defining the Problem

Currently Freemasonry is experiencing a decline of 3.5% in membership per year. This decline started in 1958 when total membership in the United States hit approximately 4.1 million Masons. By 1994 there were approximately 2 million Masons in the United States. If you look at Masonic membership since the 1840ís you will find a steady increase in membership until the year 1958 (this is a statistical curve). For 38 years we have been in decline.

Many Lodges have been forced to merge or to simply close. Todayís man is not as interested in joining our ranks as they were in the 1940ís and 1950ís. Freemasonry used to be a prestigious organization. On October 6, 1956 the Grand Masters of Freemasons of the United States were pictured on the cover of Life Magazine. Today, the hottest selling Masonic item is the book "The Deadly Deception," which is an antimasonic book.

In addition to the decline, our membership is aging. Currently, the average age of Freemasons in the United States is 68.5 years old. The Scottish Rite, NMJ, did an age survey of its membership a couple of years back and found it to be around 67.5 years old.

It is difficult to attract young men to a fraternity which is dominated by older men. Lodges tend to have activities and events that satisfy the active membership. The active membership in most Masonic Lodges is approximately 11% of its total membership. The MSA (Masonic Services Association) survey of 1989 found that 85% of Freemasons indicated that they did not attend a Blue Lodge event or meeting in the prior 3 years.

At a 50 year pin presentation in a Northern Masonic jurisdiction (two years ago), the Grand Master handed out 5 pins. 4 of the 5 members said that they had not attended Lodge since they were raised. That was 50 years ago! The 5th man was the Secretary of the Lodge for the past 35 years. If he was not the Secretary one would wonder if he would have been so active?

PART II - The Components

MEMBERSHIP

Why do we exist? It is to provide some kind of service and benefit to our members. If all of our members resigned and we stopped brining in new members, what would happen to Freemasonry? Membership is the most important key to our success. Without members we do not collect dues, we do not have Lodges, we do not have Grand Lodges!

Consider the following points:

MAINTAIN CURRENT ACTIVITES FOR ACTIVE MEMBERSHIP

The active membership is the group of men who will be determining what will be "allowed" in the Lodge. If you are going to build your "new" membership on younger men and you want to add activities that fit age group, you will have to get your active membership to agree to it. Instead of changing activities simply add activities. Give the active membership exactly the kinds of meetings and activities that they want. Create additional/new activities for the younger (and the new) members.

DO NOT BE CONCERNED WITH INACTIVE MEMBERSHIP

Inactive members do not like what the Lodge is doing. They will not be convinced that the Lodge has changed. Learn from the Sears experience. Sears was the number 1 department store in the United States for many years. In the late 1980ís they lost that prestige. Their marketing analysis showed that "inactive" Sears customers, those who developed a dislike for Sears, could not be coaxed into going into a "new and improved" Sears even if they were given heavy discounts to do so. Therefore, Sears kept the "old" departments and methods for the current customer base and developed new departments and attitudes to attract new customers.

You can do the same thing in Lodge. You must determine were to put your resources. Where is the biggest bang for the buck coming from. Statistics indicate that you may be able to get 5% of your inactive members to join the active ranks. You do not gain membership in this manner. If you spend your resources on new members you will get a membership increase!

TARGET 30-45 YEAR OLDS - THIS IS THE LARGEST GROUP OF MEN WHO DO NOT BELONG TO ANY ORGANIZATION

95% of men surveyed, non-Masons, indicated that they did not belong to any fraternal group. Also, they are the largest, by percentage, age group of the current population. Also over 90% of these men have no idea what Freemasonry is all about. Why not target the biggest group you can?

FINANCES

Unfortunately money is necessary to do anything in this world. Most Lodges are running barely in the black. That is that most Lodges spend more money then they bring in. You cannot do that for very long until you go broke. Consider the following points:

GENERATE FUNDS TO BE USED TO ATTRACT NEW MEMBERS

You must have additional funds in order to create opportunities and activities that will attract new members. If you decide to continue with the current level of activities in the Lodge (to support the active membership) then you must raise money to support the additional programming. You can generate funds by renting your building, selling services (have members donate some time and sell that time), sell goods (food sales). The old fund raiser routine.

USE SAVED FUNDS

If you have a trust fund or reserve fund it is time to use it. What good does a pile of money in the bank do for the Lodge when the Lodge folds due to membership loss and it merges? Use your financial resources, if you have them, to generate new programs and activities and attract new members.

RAISE DUES

Yes, the ugly word. Why do Freemason complain about dues? Are you giving your members a value for their yearly dues. Since 90% or more are inactive the answer is no. Masonic dues are cheap. Men will spend more on a day of golf then on their yearly Masonic dues. They do not complain about the golf prices, but they do complain about the dues. Generate a financial incentive to paying the yearly dues. For example, create a group insurance plan in your Lodge. Better yet in your district, even better in your jurisdiction. Group rates on life, health, homeowners and car insurance will generate savings for your members that will well offset a yearly dues to the Lodge. Set up monthly payment plans if necessary for Lodge dues. If the Lodge charges $250 per year dues but saves the member $400 in annual insurance costs, then the equation is easy. He saves $150 by paying his dues. This will generate funds for the Lodge to use to create new programs and attract new members. 

RITUAL

The ritual of Freemasonry is one of the most beautiful in the world. Unfortunately, as membership declines and interest in the ritual declines, the quality of it declines. The ritual of initiation, passing and raising is where we begin the learning process for the candidate. It is here were he starts to learn about Freemasonry. Consider the following:

WHAT MAKES US FREEMASON

Then why do men dislike ritual. Take a moment and think about how many rituals you have experienced in you life so far. A couple of church rituals perhaps. A high school graduation, maybe college, marriage, any others. People in todayís world do not have the same number of rituals conferred upon them that existed years ago. Therefore, rituals are foreign to the "modern" man. Receiving "the word" in a ritual does not have the same meaning in the 1990ís as it did in the 1940ís

MUST BE PRESENTED THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE

In the MSA 1988 survey men indicated that if they must endure a ritualistic ceremony that it must be done well. Would you be please with a minister who could not perform a wedding ceremony well? How does it look to a candidate when the ritual is not done well? It really looks bad when a degree team member has to read the ritual out of a book. Why not establish degree teams in your Lodge? Let those members who love ritual and can do it well have the change to contribute to the Lodge in that manner?

SHOULD BE EASILY ACCESSIBLE TO ALL

Some jurisdictions make their ritual easy for all to access by printing it. Most jurisdictions either will not print it or put it in a code book that is so complex that it takes more effort to learn the code than the ritual. Mouth to mouth ritual was a nice idea. In todayís complex and "hurry up" world it is difficult to get a personís time long enough to teach him mouth to mouth ritual.

MASONIC EDUCATION

This is our opportunity to explain to a new member the true meaning of Freemasonry. The problem here is that many Lodges are so lax in getting this education quickly to new members that they loose the opportunity. 67% of men who attend their first stated meeting after being raised become inactive. 76% become inactive after two meetings. 90% become inactive after three. Masonic education must begin before the candidate can attend his first stated meeting. Consider the following:

GEARED TOWARD THE MEANING OF FREEMASONRY

Too many Masonic Education programs talk about the meaning of the Ritual. Let the ritualistic teams and instructors take care of teaching the ritual and the meaning of the ritual. The Masonic Education people must concentrate on the true meaning of being a Freemason. "Freemasonry is a way of Life." That is a great statement. In order for our members to life that part they must be educated to what that means. Teach them the virtues and values of this great fraternity.

INCLUDE THE WIVES IN THE EDUCATION PROCESS

Thousands of books are in publication about Freemasonry. Do not make the newly raised Masons wife go to the library to find out about the fraternity. She will not do it! She will then tell her husband that she is against his participation in an organization that she knows nothing about. Educate her about Freemasonry. When you educate the member about the values and virtues of Freemasonry have his wife there with him. Remember that the ritual teaching is not a part of Masonic Education, therefore, you do not have to hide anything from her.

MAKE IT "EXCITING" AND INTERESTING

Having a man sit through hours of boring classes on Freemasonry is like having bamboo rods pushed under his fingernails. You must find ways to make the classes interesting. Consult with the teachers and College professors that are members of your Lodge. Instruct your Masonic education people on the methods of adult learning. Make learning fun.

OFFICERS

Who is going to run the Lodge if all the officers quit? Worse yet what happens to the Lodge if no one stands forward to be an officer. Many Lodges have folded and merged because of lack of officers. Consider the following:

CUT BACK THE BURDEN BY USING RITUAL TEAMS 

Men in the 1990ís do not have the same amount of time to devote to Freemasonry. Asking them to learn the ritual, all of the other things that they must learn and do may be to large of a burden. If you create ritual teams whose job it is to perform degree work, then the officers are free to do other things or just to lighten the burden.

INCLUDE SPECIAL LEADERSHIP TRAINING

Less community leaders have been joining the fraternity for years. We have the Worshipful Master in the East as our leader but we never give him leadership training. Well before a man reaches the East he should receive leadership training. That is the purpose of the Masonic Leadership Center. Each officer of your Lodge should, at least, take the leadership course that the MLC offers. Workshops such as this one are also critical for the successful development of true Lodge leadership.

REDUCE THE NUMBER OF YEARS REQUIRED BY PERMANENTLY FILLING THE LOWER CHAIRS

In todayís world a man will change jobs approximately every 4.8 years. This is due to the vesting of pension packages. Companies do not want the liability so they are gearing themselves toward this change in employees. If a man will change his job every 5 years or so, how will he look at the Lodge line that can take 8 years. Cut back the number of years to 4. Permanently fill the lower chairs with men who do not want to move "up the line" but would love to sit in a chair, or ask Past Masters to do it. However you do it cutting back on the number of years it will take a man to get to the East will increase your pool of available candidates for the position.

FAMILY ACTIVITIES

Family activities can be defined in many different ways. Activities that involve the member and his wife, the member and his immediate family, the member with his grandchildren, are ways to define this. A Grand Master once said that Blue Lodge is not the place for family activities. That it is the job of the Scottish Rite. Only 35% of Freemasons go on to appendent bodies. Therefore, the Blue Lodge must provide this. Today younger men ask the question. "What does the Lodge do that involves my family?" Most Lodges do next to nothing. One family summer picnic and a Ladies night dinner just is not enough. The old theme of a "boys club" is not important to younger men today. Consider the following

INCREASE FAMILY ACTIVITIES; HAVE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ACTIVITIES FOR DIFFERENT AGE GROUPS 

No one would say that you should stop the "big bands of the 1930ís" dance that you have ever year (some have it twice a year). The current active member like that and that is great. The Lodge should consider adding a "big bands of the 1970ís" dance that will satisfy the younger members of the Lodge. Lodges tend to do only activities that satisfy the current active membership. Remember that the current active membership is 68 years old. The family activities that attract a 68 year old man are completely different then the activities that attract a 35 year old man.

SUPPORT MASONIC YOUTH GROUPS

Masonic youth groups help to develop members of the future. Support of a youth group means a lot more than just money. You need members to devote the time and energy to these kids. Show them what Freemasons do (besides giving them bucks). You will get more of them to join when they grow up and you may get a few Dadís to join.

SUPPORT COMMUNITY YOUTH GROUPS

Same theory here as shown above. The difference with this attitude is that you start to work with people who probably are not aware of what Freemasonry is. This is your chance to get out into the community. Apple Computers is practically giving away computers to schools right now. There hope is that when these future leaders get into business that they will remember the Apple computer they worked on in school and will recommend it and buy them. You would be doing the same thing; planting a seed in the young peoples minds about Freemasonry.

FELLOWSHIP

We claim that this is the main reason for men join Freemasonry. But when Freemasons are asked to grade themselves on this area we receive "C-". We allow newly raised Master Masons to sit alone at their first stated meeting. We have clicks in the Lodge. We have members who always sit in the same place, meeting after meeting. We do not always meet on the level. Some of our members with titles, past and present, act higher than other members. Consider the following:

NUMBER 1 REASON MEN GIVE FOR JOINING A FRATERNAL ORGANIZATION

In the MSA 1988 survey of non-Masons this was the number one reason that men gave for wanting to join a fraternal organization. Men like to be with other men! So why are we so bad at delivering fellowship. 90% or so of our membership do not attend our meetings and events. A conclusion can be reached that we are not delivering fellowship very well. For if we did delivery it well then our inactive membership would not be so large.

MORE SOCIAL PROGRAMS EITHER DURING STATED MEETINGS OR A SEPARATE MEETINGS

How much time of a stated meeting is devoted to fellowship? You cannot fellowship when the meeting is consumed by the Secretary, Treasurer and committee reports. Reading all of the correspondence during the stated meeting does not lead to fellowship. Post those reports and let the members who are interested in them read them. Let the rest be set free to socialize!

NEVER LET A NEW MEMBER SIT ALONE

If fellowship is our number one benefit to being a Freemason then you must never let a man sit alone in the Lodge, especially a new member. A new member who sits alone will conclude that the fellowship he heard so much about is not true and will become inactive. You must also get rid of clicks in your Lodge. Have members change seats at every stated meeting. Have them sit next to someone new and talk to them. Take time out of your stated meeting for this type of fellowship.

HAVE A NEW MEMBER INTEGRATION PROGRAM

Have a special program designed that insures that every new member becomes a vital part of the Lodge. Make sure the new member understands the rituals and traditions of the Lodge before he gets to that first stated meeting. Do not let him become embarrassed because he does not understand the words "So mote it be."

COMMUNITY AWARENESS

How the community sees the fraternity can make it a success or bury it. Will men join an organization that the community does not see in a positive light? Freemasonry has remained in the dark for too long. In the 1940ís and 50ís Freemasonry was a positive influence on the community. In the 1980ís and 90ís Freemasonry is seen as a cult. A secretive organization that exists to feed itself. People do not associate organizations like the Shriners with the Freemasons. They do not know that you must be a Freemason in order to be a Shriner. The Lodge must create a positive image of Freemasonry in the community. Consider the following:

DEVELOP A POSITIVE IMAGE OF THE COMMUNITY TOWARD FREEMASONRY

How can you do this? It will not be easy to erase the many years of negativism that have developed about the Craft. But the Lodgeís survival will hang in the balance unless the community begins to see Freemasonry as a positive force. 

GET INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY

Get your members out in the community. Do community projects. Wear large square and compasses on your shirts with the words "FREEMASONS CARE ABOUT THEIR COMMUNITY." Have members volunteer in hospitals while wearing that shirt. Community involvement means having members give their time to projects, not just their money.

SPONSOR A COMMUNITY CHARITY

Find a need in the community that is very important and no one else is supporting. Then support that charity as yours. Put all the resources you can into; time, materials, man power and money.

YOUNGER MEN BELIEVE THAT FREEMASONS ARE INVOLVED

When surveyed, younger men who knew something of Freemason indicated that they thought that Freemasons were involved in the community. Younger members told the MLCRG that they were disappointed to find out that this was not true.

HOLD COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES IN THE LODGE HALL

What a better way to show your community support then to freely open your building to support community activities.

PAST MASTERS

The Past Masters of a Lodge can help to make or break any effort that is put forth to strengthen the Lodge. You will need these men on your side if you attempt to improve any part of the Lodge. Consider the following:

CALL ON THEM FOR ADVISE BUT REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE PART OF THE PAST

Past Masters have a wealth of experiences but they are also fast to tell you that 20 years ago Joe Smith tried that idea and it did not work. The 1990ís is different then the 1970ís. That which failed in 1976 may work in 1996. Getting the Past Masters involved in any change process is a positive thing to do.

GETTING THEIR SUPPORT FOR ALL NEW INITIATIVES

You need it. Plain and simple.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014