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masonic matters

Membership Trends

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

Copies of Grand Lodge Proceedings are good references to have on hand for research; because some Grand Lodges are publishing them on their web sites as PDF files they’re available to more Masons than ever before, and are much easier to store than the books ever were. Now is a great time to begin a collection of proceedings of your Grand Lodge in electronic form.

Proceedings are good tools to use to track membership trends. Recently I looked at the number of demits and stricken Masons from 1927 through 1944 in my Grand Lodge. Those 17 years represent a lot of changes; part of the Roaring 20’s, the Great Depression, and World War II. I thought; possibly there might be something to be learned by looking back into that period of membership history.

In 1927 there were 60,769 Master Masons in my jurisdiction: That year 1,423 of them either demitted or resigned (withdrawn) or were stricken from the rolls for non-payment of dues. In 1929 the total withdrawn and stricken went up by 70; but the total number of members increased to 61,917; the last year for an increase in members until 1945.

In 1930 (I was unable to view 1928,) the number of stricken rose to 1,032; then 1,336 in ’31; then 1,802 in ’33; finally topping out at 2,239 in 1934. Overall, the total number of Master Masons went from 60,769 in 1927 to 46,689 in 1942, (slightly more than a 23% total decline.) By 1944, (I could not view 1943,) the total number of Master Masons began to increase slightly; 46,689 in 1942 to 46, 727 in 1944; by 1946 the number grew to; 48,660. It might be safe to say that the Great Depression was devastating to membership, and the period after WWII helped it to recover. It took until 1951 to exceed the number in 1929; in ’51 the number of Master Masons was 62,531.

In 1962 the Grand Master stated: “from 1943 to 1953 there was a net gain of 19,464 members. In 1954, the gain was 895, and each year since then, [to 1962,] the curve of net gain has wavered and dropped down until today we show our first loss.”

Freemasonry has been in a period of membership decline that dates back to 1962 in my jurisdiction for a variety of reasons that we don’t seem to be able to get control of. But this trend is not peculiar to only one jurisdiction, it is similar to many if not all jurisdictions in the U.S., and possibly in other parts of the world as well; it began slowly and has continued for over 40 years, with more noticeable annual declines in recent years. Through the years there have been times of prosperity and recession. Now, however, we are facing the most severe recession since the Great Depression.

Gaining control of the drain on membership can be the difference between survival and closing.

With the present economy occupying the minds of many of us it seems prudent for Freemasonry, and all of its appendant and concordant bodies, to come to grips with the reality of the economy, and its possible effect on our brethren.

It might be prudent for lodge government, (the Master and Wardens,) the appointed officers, along with the lodge membership committee, to research the membership numbers and trends in their lodge, to see what the number of withdrawn and stricken are; then brainstorm ideas to reduce them. Some drains on membership, such as deaths cannot be controlled but, the lodge can have a positive effect on stemming the tide of demits, resignations and NPD’s: It takes work, it’s not easy, but it can be done.

When families watch the household economy, (being uncertain about the future,) they tend to reduce the amount of money expended; they prioritize in order of importance. Individuals & families will continue to put money into things that are important to them. Maybe some questions to ponder are;

1. How important is membership to our members, especially the non-attendees?
2. What can we do to increase the importance?
3. What can we offer to our members to increase the importance and the value of their membership in the eyes of their families?

Many families today view the money they spend as belonging to the family, not just the husband, so they look at value and enjoyment very closely.

Some things that might be worth examining are:

1. Is the lodge friendly and pleasant to come to? Pleasant enough so they want to come back?
2. Why are they members, and what do they hope to derive from being a Mason and being a part of our Lodge, or Masonic group?
3. Do our members need this lodge to enjoy being a Mason? How relevant is the Lodge in the lives of our members?
4. What do, or what can, we offer to help our members to derive what they want from membership?
5. What do they want?
6. Is there another group offering what we offer, are they doing it better than we are?
7. If attending lodge is unimportant, how long until continuing with dues payments becomes unimportant?
8. Is managing our membership important to us, can we survive while continuing to lose members through withdrawals and by striking them?
9. Do we care if our lodge or group survives for the next 20, 30, or 50 years, or do we only care that it survives until we’re out of office?
10. What can we do to manage our weaknesses, (the drain of our membership,) and provide more of what Freemasons are looking for by being a member of our lodge or group?

We may each have opinions on the above thoughts and questions, but the Masons who would best examine them or similar questions would be membership committees and elected and appointed officers. It is my opinion that if a Lodge were to engage in some serious research and soul searching, to see if there is a problem with declining membership; then analyze what part of the decline they could slow down or eliminate; then examine and implement what they could do to attract new, and restored members, and then keep them by adding value; then possibly all their efforts will make a positive difference in their lodge or group; if enough of us do this then maybe the economy we all face will have less of a negative affect on our membership than it otherwise would.

“It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose your own.” M.W. Brother Harry S. Truman, 33° & 33rd President of the United States

From the Great light of Masonry = “Hard work means prosperity; only fools idle away their time.” Proverbs 12:11 NLT

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Last modified: March 22, 2014