The Masonic Trowel

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Most Lodge leaders, at the present time, are content to wait for new members to arrive at the door and ask for a petition. As a concession to Grand Lodge, once a year they will mention in passing that the Lodge Secretary has a good supply of "Friend To Friend" pamphlets, if anyone needs some. Although solicitation is still prohibited, even the most naive member has to see a certain level of "dereliction of duty" here.

Your membership is your only essential asset. You can have your building burn to the ground. Your Lodge furniture can be broken to splinters by vandals. Your regalia might be shredded by rodents. You can lose your Lodge minute book and you can be completely broke with bills to pay but as long as you have your membership, you have your Lodge. Since it is a biological fact, however, that people age and die, the only way membership can be maintained over long periods is by bringing new members in. Keeping the membership you already have, and those you will get, happy and active is something we will deal with in another module.

In studying the core research of the Masonic Renewal Task Force along with the successes and failures of several corporate membership drives, certain factors consistently come through. First, a knowledge of an organization and what it stands for is critical to making a man stop and consider taking out membership in that organization. Secondly, peer pressure has been proven the number one most effective tool used in membership programs that experience significant results. Third, most men who seek to join Freemasonry have had at least one memorable experience with a Lodge or a Mason somewhere in their travels.

Understanding these three principles and utilizing the various tools that we currently have at our disposal, it is not just possible, but actually fairly easy, to put a membership development program together.

To accomplish the first principle, of imparting knowledge to the general public about who and what we are, there are three general methods available. First, we can use an unfocused, overall approach and simply show people what we are like by doing some community projects that we can handle with the resources and manpower available to us. For instance, each spring when the snow finally goes, every playground in New Brunswick looks like a disaster area. Garbage needs picked up, equipment needs cleaned and oiled and often a new coat of paint will completely change the looks of a playground. This is a low cost, labor intensive project, specifically for kids that can immediately enhance the image of the Lodge in the community. Lodges that are financially capable may even wish to donate a new piece of playground equipment as well as performing the clean-up. Other such projects could include things like adopting a section of highway to keep clean and tidy, collecting food for the local food bank or shelter, setting up a Santa's workshop to repair second hand toys just before Christmas or collecting second hand clothes for the poor in the community. The list of projects is endless but the principle remains the same, you are trying to show the community what you believe in by working at projects you believe in and having them see you do it. Consequently you must develop some means of recognition for the community to identify. A light weight vest with the Square and Compasses on it will work as will a baseball cap with the Lodge name on it or a placard placed strategically near where you are performing one of these good deeds. Older members will immediately say that we are advocating that the Fraternity become a service club. This is not so. We are advocating that we get recognition for the things we do so that the men in the community who may be potential members may see us, recognize us and identify us as good corporate citizens.

The second means of imparting knowledge is focused and much more detailed. The Lodge can hold an open house. The actual format of the open house is up to the discretion of the Lodge but could follow a pattern similar to this. First, clean the Lodge thoroughly and then set up the dining room and the Lodge room. Place the aprons and collars at their appropriate places as well as the rods, batons, scepters and gavel. Set up a few small tables around the room displaying such things as different types of aprons, different awards and different types of jewels worn by Masons. Place a knowledgeable Brother at each of these tables to explain the things that are in front of him. Don't forget to explain the various wall hangings. The walls of every Lodge are covered with memorabilia that would be of interest to most people. Next design a menu for a supper or a luncheon that is within the abilities of the Lodge to put on, both from the standpoint of manpower and the potential of the kitchen. Arrange for an effective speaker on the topic of Freemasonry or obtain one of the informational videos available from the Masonic Renewal Committee. Now comes the critical part for the success of the operation. Have your active membership invite the men, and their wives, in the community who they believe would make good Masons. Give all of your invitees a complete tour of the Lodge in much the same way you would receive a guided tour at a large museum. Be sure to answer all questions honestly. One thing we are trying to do here is dispel the image of the "secret society". Make sure that the questions of the wives are particularly tended to as we will need her later as an ally or at worst, neutral. Be prepared for questions about time, money, family involvement, community work, leadership and religious affiliation. Following the tour, serve your meal and turn loose your guest speaker or your video. Be prepared again to answer numerous questions. Follow your meal with an informal coffee and desert time where people can ask questions they may have been embarrassed to ask in front of a crowd. Make sure all your Masons are clearly marked so that the people can pick them out to ask questions to. This can be done with a distinctive lapel pin, a Camp Goodtime hat or simply a blue armband. Velcro fastening armbands can be made up very economically. Always remember that your primary goal is to disseminate knowledge about the Fraternity, not to solicit membership. If you have done the job properly they will ask for applications as they should.


The last approach to educating the public is very focused and very personal. This is the standard one to one, Friend to Friend, approach that requires more or less finesse depending on how you wish to employ it. Several information pamphlets are now available from Grand Lodge and several more can be purchased through Masonic Renewal. It is possible to bombard a potential candidate with information to the point he simply runs away. We also have a "Friend To Friend" video which is very well done and though produced by our American friends, a solid attempt has been made to distinguish the accomplishments used as examples of Freemasonry, to be just that, accomplishments of Freemasonry, not of American Freemasonry. All these pamphlets and videos are available to be used with a friend or a friend and his wife and/or family. This type of program has been in effect for some years now and has not paid the kind of dividends it is capable of. One possible reason for this is that the Masons handing out the pamphlets in many cases backed off from contact with the people they gave the pamphlet to for fear of being called upon to answer questions about the Fraternity. An alarming number of the Brethren are unsure what they can and cannot say about Freemasonry. This will form the topic for a complete module all by itself.

There is a new suggestion for personal contact that may appeal more to the members of the Fraternity and it goes something like this. Each active member of a Lodge prepares a list of the men he knows in the community, his friends and acquaintances, who he believes would make good Masons. He keeps this list to himself and reveals it to no one. As the Lodge organizes projects and events in the community, or for that matter even a breakfast for Camp Goodtime, the Master asks all the active members to go to their "pocket list" and invite one or two of the men on the list to join in and help the event. An example might be a food drive for the local food bank. A member would call up his friend and explain what the Lodge is doing and ask him if he has any canned goods he could spare for the drive. Then simply mention that if the friend has some free time Saturday morning the Lodge could sure use an extra body or two to help receive the food and package it up for the food bank. This is a slightly more subtle way of bringing your friends to the Fraternity. The other good thing about a pocket list is nobody really knows who invited whom to help.

If the Lodge opts to use all of the methods above for information transfer then it is also employing the principle of peer pressure and is giving outsiders that all important contact with the Fraternity that has been so important in the past.

Peer pressure has been a proven and reliable tool for increasing membership and some of the most successful membership drives have started with focused peer pressure. No stranger can ever influence you the way your friends can. A natural response to seeing a friend experience something good in his life is to want to join with him in that good experience. The quickest and easiest way to turn one new member into several new members is to properly assimilate and educate the first new member and then let him talk to his friends about the Fraternity. Do not send him out to solicit, send him out with the confidence and pride that he should have, to tell his friends of this great new experience he has just gone through. If he is comfortable talking about the Fraternity you will almost certainly acquire more new members through him.

Every Mason knows several men who have the qualities necessary to make them good Masons. As a Fraternity we must become more comfortable discussing the Craft, what it means to us and what it does for our communities and our province. If we appear comfortable and proud while talking about Masonry we will have a positive impact on our audience. If we remember that 71% of the population has no idea about Freemasonry, and that another 26% has only a vague, but generally positive impression of the Fraternity, then we are in the unique situation of being able to create our own public image from scratch. Not many institutions find themselves in that situation after 500 years of existence.

There are two other factors that should always be remembered when attempting to put a development plan into place. First, the more you rub the Fraternity up against the community the more comfortable the community becomes with the Fraternity. This leads to questions, which leads to the formation of opinions, all of which is in our control to influence positively. We literally hold our destiny in our own hands.

The last factor to remain conscious of is the Family. The wife who works shoulder to shoulder with her husband to earn the family's daily bread is going to have a lot to say about the organizations her husband joins, especially if that organization is perceived as taking time away from the family. It should also be noted that total family involvement can be a significant selling feature for the Fraternity if the appropriate concordant bodies are readily available (i.e. the Eastern Star, Rainbow Girls and Demolay).

We must never intentionally leave the wife out of any information session we have for the husband. Doing so will only sew the seeds of suspicion in her mind and tend to turn her opinion against us. It is a fact borne out by research that 75% of men will not join an organization that their wife disapproves of. Remember, peace at home is often hard enough to find without doing something you know your wife disapproves of.

To sum up, new membership in Masonic Lodges can no longer be left entirely to chance. We must become much more active in leading members to our doors, not soliciting, but leading. By public education, by being seen working in the community and by singling out individuals for special attention we can change our current membership situation. In addition, proper treatment of new candidates as they advance to become Master Masons will give us happier and better educated new Masons who will be willing to discuss the Fraternity openly with their friends. Each new Mason can mean a potential of five or six new Masons as his influence spreads among his friends.

Enhanced treatment of candidates is the subject of the next module. Look for it.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014