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In 1988, a group of very experienced Masons were selected to form the Masonic Renewal Task Force. This Task Force was to investigate and search for answers to several problems, which, at that time, had been threatening the Fraternity for nearly thirty years. Unfortunately those same problems still exist today and have now gone unchecked in New Brunswick (and North America in general) for the last forty-one years.

Following are some of the more critical problems that the Task Force identified that still remain problems today:

1. The average age of a member of the Fraternity has been climbing steadily and now rests at about 68 years of age. This causes several problems as mortality rates are much higher, the ability and desire to contribute serious effort diminishes and the desire to change nearly disappears. This makes it hard to break the cycle of events that got us into trouble in the first place.

2. The Fraternity is not as representative of the society around us as it used to be or as it should be. As an example, in my home community not a single working teacher is a Mason in spite of the town having a large regional high school, a middle school and two elementary schools. There are a few retired teachers who still maintain membership but they do not attend Lodge even on an infrequent basis. Another change has occurred with law enforcement personnel. At one time several of the R.C.M.P. members and nearly all of the Customs officers were Masons. Now only one of each remains and only one of them attends regularly. It may also be noted that in spite of having a large regional hospital, not a single doctor is a Mason. Something is not right here.

3. Overall membership numbers have decreased steadily in New Brunswick and across North America. Forty-one uninterrupted years of declining membership numbers should be scaring someone in the Fraternity by this time. In 1959 there were approximately 9000 Masons in New Brunswick while today there are barely 5000. The really bad news is that it doesn't look like the trend is going to change any time soon unless there is a major Fraternity wide push for significant change in how we attract men to Masonry. Do not mistake this as a call for solicitation, it is not. There are other ways to attract men but that will form the basis of another module.

4. The rate of initiations has dropped off steadily over the years and though the rate of decline is not as great as with membership, it is significant. We currently initiate about 90 new Masons a year. This is a long way from the 190 and 200 initiations we have known at times in the past. These lower initiation rates become a particular problem when the death, demit and suspension rates remain relatively steady which they have.

5. To add insult to injury, our average rate of participation at Lodge meetings and events is 10-15% of our membership. This means that in spite of membership numbers on paper of over 5000 men, only 500-750 of them are active (active being defined as being seen among the brethren at least three times per year). That would just about fill the officers' chairs in the Lodges of New Brunswick (14 officers x 50 Lodges = 700). It's amazing that we get anything accomplished at all much less support a project like Camp Goodtime. Imagine what we could do if we had 50% participation.

6. Although we are in crisis the bulk of our membership, 95% or more, refuse to accept it or react to it. Our levels of complacency and apathy are at all time highs.

7. Last but not least our leadership in its present condition is not going to lead us out of the wilderness. The accepted system of Masonic Leadership allows a man to be Master of his Lodge for one year but it does not prepare him for that year. He therefore arrives and tries to learn as he goes. This works or doesn't work depending on the man, his abilities and how many Past Masters are willing to catch him if he falls. He may be very late in his year before he gets an appreciation for the larger problems of the Fraternity external to his own Lodge and he may never even see some of the potential solutions much less have time to study or implement them. The truly sad thing about this situation is that Grand Masters and Grand Lodges are absolutely helpless to change this. The changes needed must come to each Lodge through its leadership and currently leadership has no time to listen, less time to study and no desire to add to their work load anything that hasn't been done before and proven effective.

Before we go on it should be made clear that all these problems exist in the Province of New Brunswick but they also exist across North America. We should never be deceived into believing that we are the only ones with a problem. This is the primary reason that we feel that the work and conclusions of the Masonic Renewal Committee of North America need to be studied and implemented here.


The Masonic Renewal Task Force, faced with the aforementioned problems, decided that a good place to start was to commission a survey of non-Masons as to their knowledge of Masonry, their desire to join, their limitations, and their expectations. The survey was done in 1988 by a professional group hired by the Task Force and the results tell us a lot about the difficulties we will face finding new membership. What follows are some of the highlights of that survey.

First of all, 85% of men do not belong to any fraternal organization and they gave lack of time as the most common reason for not joining. As a matter of fact 56% of them said that they had less than 5 hours a month that they could spare for something like a fraternal organization. Of this group of men only 2% indicated an active interest in joining while 22.2% indicated they might be interested depending on what the benefits of joining might be. When then asked what benefits they would like to get from joining their top eight answers were

1. new friends
2. community service
3. social activities
4. activities with current friends
5. doing things as a family
6. professional contacts
7. develop leadership skills
8. take a leadership role

Please note that there is nothing in this list which Masonry cannot provide and by so doing does not have to compromise its constitutions, rituals or landmarks.

The second thing that came out of that survey was that 71% of the population has no idea what Freemasonry is or what it is about. Another 26.1% of them claim to know a small amount about the Fraternity and they generally have a favorable opinion of the institution. That leaves only 2.9% of the population who have some knowledge of the Fraternity and maintain a negative or neutral opinion. In effect, this means that although 24.2% of the male population are or might be interested in joining, three quarters of them don't know anything about us and the others have only a vague idea.

Following this survey, the Masonic Renewal Task Force decided it needed a survey of what Masons thought of the Fraternity that they were members of. This survey was conducted in 1989 by the same group of professionals that did the initial survey. The results should cause alarm bells to go off all over the Fraternity.

First of all, 53% of the Fraternity is over the age of sixty, 59% have been Masons for more than twenty years, 50% of them are retired and the vast majority of them don't attend Lodge even on an infrequent basis. Only 30% of those surveyed belonged to any other Masonic body so blaming the Star or the Shrine for their lack of attendance doesn't seem to be the answer. Oddly enough when asked about attendance many of them initially lied, elevating their attendance presumably due to embarrassment about their lack of support for their Lodges. It was found that the younger and newer Masons were the best attendees. Fully 87% of Masons indicated they are satisfied with the Fraternity and yet they don't attend. 72% said that they had had no major disappointments with Masonry and yet they don't attend. 75% gave time as the major reason for not attending but 50% are retired and 70% don't belong to any other Masonic organization.

The conclusions for the Masons of New Brunswick are not pretty but they must be faced and are enumerated here for your consideration.

1. Most of the Fraternity is comfortably uninformed, sitting at home, confident that the Fraternity will always be here whether they attend Lodge or not.

2. Most of the Fraternity does not know, and does not care to know, about our membership and participation crisis. They do not realize that change is critical and generally do not want to change anything even though they currently don't attend Lodge for a variety of reasons, the most common of which is time.

3. The general population of men in our communities who might become members share a lot of common characteristics. They see the family, fellowship, community, charity and leadership as important things in their lives. They see time as a constant limiting factor to pursuing membership in any fraternity. Finally they know practically nothing about the Fraternity, good or bad.

4. As a Fraternity we need to let the general population know that we can help fulfill a man in the areas he is most interested in and that we can do it at very little expense to him in time or money.

5. We must attempt to reactivate the vast majority of our membership and get them involved again. We can not afford to have 85-90% of our membership dormant so that their experience and ideas are lost to the rest of us.

6. We must move soon. The teaching and implementation stage of these plans take years and results take even longer. Unfortunately the decline is not going to stop and wait while we get organized. Masters must be made aware of how critical the situation really is and must be urged to begin to act in their own Lodges.

7. Our Blue Lodge leadership must hear about, understand, believe in and activate positive solutions to these problems. This can only happen if they are confident and well trained and that will not happen by accident.

This is the crisis. It is real as are all the problems listed here. It makes for a difficult picture to stare at but stare at it we must until either it goes away or we do. Look for some of the proposed solutions in subsequent modules.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014