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them either demitted or resigned (withdrawn) or were stricken from the rolls for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 In 1929 the total withdrawn and stricken went up by 70; but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
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
5. What do they want?
6. Is there another group offering what we offer, are they doing it better than
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
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
From the Great light of Masonry = “Hard work means prosperity; only fools idle
away their time.” Proverbs 12:11 NLT
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