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Where have all the Brethren Gone
by Abraham Benjamin
A powerful problem that we currently have in Freemasonry is "Why don't the Brethren come out the stated meetings?" Active Freemasons cannot seem to understand why 85% of the Brethren of the fraternity do not attended their Lodge meetings. It is a perplexing problem that must be solved if Freemasonry is going to reverse its membership loss. Currently, we bring in new members just to see them become inactive within 4 months of their receiving the 3rd degree. This trend is not healthy for our fraternity. The purpose of this paper is to explore with you a possible reasons for this situation.
The reason that men do not attend their Lodge stated meetings comes down to participation and/or contribution. If you give a man the opportunity to participate at the state meeting he will attend. If you give him the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the Lodge, he will attended. If you give him both, so much the better.
For 10% of our membership, participation in the Lodge means coming to the meeting, saying "aye", and voting. For 90% of the membership that is not enough. Participation in the meeting means "doing something". Many inactive Masons have indicated to me that if they had a reason to come to the stated meeting, that they would.
Let's look at Past Master for a moment. As a man goes through the chairs of his lodge he is participating in the meeting. Even when his job is to stand up and sit down at the correct time (I refer to the Junior Master of Ceremonies). That man feels that he is participating to the success of the meeting and the success of the Lodge. As you move through the chairs your participation level increases each year. Once you are through the East and you are a Past Master, you are "forced" to sit on the sidelines. Now you do not participate in the operations of the Lodge meeting. Therefore, it should not surprise you that 90%+ of men who become Past Masters stop attending Lodge meetings shortly after they leave the East.
I remember becoming a Past Master and sitting in my Lodge's stated meeting becoming bored to death. I began to wonder why I liked the stated meetings while I was traveling to the East. After years of talking with other men and Past Masters it became clear. I was participating in the meetings. I had a "job" to do in each meeting. Therefore, I was not bored with the repetition of the stated meeting. I was a part of it. Once I left the East and had no participation in the meeting, I began to question why I was there. The reading of the minutes and the bills is not very exciting.
There is also the occurrence when a newly raised Master Mason starts to attend his Lodge and is "forced" to take an open chair and he is not interested . What is mean by "forced" is that the officers surround the new Master Mason and brow-beat him into sitting in the open chair. The officers believe that if you give the new man the experience of the chairs that he will love it as much as they do and he will almost beg you to go through the chairs. What you are doing is taking a man who wants to participate, but not by being in the chairs, and turning him off to attending his Lodge meetings. Perhaps this new man wanted to participate by sitting on the sidelines and saying "aye". By forcing a chair on him you have discouraged him from attending because he does not like to give you the type of participation that you are seeking.
So what form can participation type? Certainly being an officer and sitting through the chairs is a form of participation. You probably have some men that would love to sit in a chair and never move (excluding the Wardens' and Master's chairs). Let them sit in that chair! Have men participate by being greeters at the entrance to your Lodge. Other men would enjoy being assigned to a visitor or a new member for the evening. They would be a "guardian" for the visitor or new member. That is another form of participation.
Other forms of participation could be: being steward, passing out aprons, helping the older member or the handicapped, giving committee reports. How about having a choir in your Lodge? A little music would soften the stated meeting and would be enjoyable.
If you put your mind to it you could find many areas that would create a sense of participation for your membership. Younger men want to participate! They are not interested in coming to a stated meeting just to sit on the sidelines. You must find them a way to participate.
If you cannot give a man the opportunity to participate in the stated meeting, another area is to find him an opportunity to make a positive contribution. Men who join organizations do so to make a difference. I have heard so many times from newly raised Master Masons, "So, what do I do for the Lodge?" Young men will join the Lodge and immediately want to make a positive contribution.
A need for men who join organizations is to do something for the organization. So now a newly raised Master Mason comes to you as the Worshipful Master of your Lodge and says "Worshipful Master, what job to have for me?" You must be careful to give this man a job that he is interested in doing. Our normal response is, "I have an opening for a Pursuvant!" If this man is not interested in ritualistic work he will decline the job and walk away dejected. He will believe that the only contribution that can be made the Lodge is done by ritual work.
There is so much more to Freemasonry than just the ritualistic work. Certainly using you creativity you can ways to allow your members to contribute. A man who feels that he is making a positive contribution to the Lodge will come to your stated meetings. Let us not forget one very important ingredient: YOU MUST RECOGNIZE his efforts! A simple report about the activities of a committee or a charity event is enough. A simple thank you for your efforts is an excellent recognition tool.
When I was Masonic Education Committee Chairman, the year after I was in the East, I came to every stated meeting. The reason was that I was making a positive contribution to my Lodge. I felt that I needed to support the Lodge in other ways so that the Lodge would continue to support the area that I was contributing in. The men who are making positive contributions to the Lodge are present at the stated meetings! The following year (this year 1994), I am not contributing to my Lodge because I am not the Masonic Education Chairman. I am not participating at the stated meetings because I am a Past Master, and therefore, I have attended one meeting this year (at that was strawberry night in June, an abbreviated meeting).
The combination of participation and positive contribution is the key that will bring men back to the Lodge's stated meeting and keep new members interested in the fraternity. Men want to participate and make a positive contribution. Either one of these motivator is enough to maintain interest. Certainly giving a man both feelings is a major boost.
This concept applies to all organizations. It does not matter if you are talking about the Masons, Lions or even the church. Participation and positive contribution are major motivator that will keep members interested in the organization.
What the Lodges need to do is to understand that ritual is very important. Also, that tradition is a nice to have. But we must create the opportunities to allow our membership either participate or make a positive contribution in our Lodges.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014