Adapt or Die: On the
Decline of Membership in the Masonic Fraternity
As all masons are acutely aware, membership throughout the Masonic
organization has been declining for some time. Blue lodges are closing or
consolidating with other area lodges, Scottish Rite valleys are selling their
large buildings and moving to much smaller buildings or are going mobile by
conducting meetings in area blue lodges or hotels and event venues. The York
Rite and even the much heralded Shrine temples are downsizing as well.
My own lodge once boosted a membership of over 400 members. Today membership
rests just under half that number and is declining by 5 members per year on
average. Estimates show my lodge will cease to be financially viable by 2030
if not sooner. The state Grand Lodge as a whole is declining by 1200 members
per year and will cease to be financially viable by 2050 if not sooner. Since
the year 2000, nearly 20 lodges have either closed or consolidated with other
lodges, due to declining membership.
To date, no one at the local, state or national level has presented any real
solutions, ideas or plans to resolve the issue or at least curb the tide of
the accelerating membership decline. The few solutions that have been proposed
tend to only deal with current membership retention rather than a solution or
even recognition and acceptance of the problem.
However, this problem is not to unique masonry. All membership based
organizations, from churches, sports leagues, scouting, professional
associations, labor unions, chambers of commerce and other civic groups are
all experiencing accelerating membership declines with numbers of new members
not keeping pace with aging memberships and a general lack of relevancy in
today's ever increasing time starved lifestyles.
Long time lodge members constantly complain about how the new members are not
attending lodge regularly, participating in degree work and their overall lack
of involvement. They gripe about how the members of the current generation
lack the same since of duty and responsibility to the lodge that they had.
In short, time is running out and the best time to fix a problem is before it
becomes an emergency. We need to accept the realities of the needs and
interests of today’s generations and those to follow. If we don’t meet their
needs, someone else will. “Educating” them on our causes will not work. As
much we may disagree, they are not concerned about our causes. They are only
concerned with what will benefit them and how they can make an impact that
they view as beneficial to the causes they support and care about.
They are not interested in joining an organization because it is the right
thing to do. Their primary motivators are benefits for themselves and the
community. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves and want
to make a difference in the world and have a personal impact on it. Nothing is
more important to them than their family, friends, and the social network they
have developed due to similar interests. Given the opportunity, they will
choose to spend their precious time within their network rather than in ours. Any
organization that attempts to separate the man from his family, his community
or his social sphere and does not engage with the man in those environments
and activities will be met with resistance, complacency and will soon have no
place in their world. They have little interest in spending hours away from
their family and their other interests to pursue learning rituals, lectures,
degree work or even our traditional fundraisers.
Faced with this dilemma, we have we have only two options.
Our only option is to embrace this changing environment as an opportunity and
not view it as an obstacle to be beaten back so we can return to the good ole
Faced with this opportunity, how should we best advance into this new era and
connect with new potential members? How do we reach them when they are ready
to explore new opportunities to better serve their community and expand their
This is a generation that gets the news from Facebook and Twitter. They watch
Netflix and YouTube instead of television. They do not have a newspaper
subscription and have no home phone. They use their smart phones to connect
with the world and have never used a phone book or even written a check. They
do their banking online. They order pizza and pay for it over the internet all
while tracking its delivery in real time. This is a connected generation that
expects information to be available when they want it. They refuse to be tied
to a specific place and device to consume knowledge and information. They
connect to their social network within minutes of waking and remain connected
until minutes before retiring in the evening.
We need be more connected to our members and our communities with information
of value, using whatever communication technology is available. We need to
connect often and more transparently. This generation is use to getting their
news from the internet. They discover new activities and events on the
internet. They connect and share ideas with others using internet based
communications. If we are not where our customers are, we will not reach them.
3. Engage the
I once heard a wise past grand master say, “the problem with young masons is
they are always wanting to do stuff”.
That axiom could not be more true of today’s generation. Today’s crop of
younger masons and potential members are more socially active in different
ways than generations past. They crave relevance and meaning all while staying
active and ever changing. We need to find ways to engage new members with
their entire families and their friends in meaningful activities and bring
everyone together as a community, not just a group of men working to bring in
other men into our never ending circle of lodge degrees and stated meetings.
We need to segment our membership into groups and tailor our vast offerings to
those different segments in ways that best suits that group.
From our initial contact with a new candidate to their raising, we need to
rethink our processes and find new and exciting ways to make the experience of
the masonic initiation more rewarding and meaningful. A newly raised master
mason should not be left to their own initiative to seek ways to be more
involved in the lodge, engaged with the membership and active in the
community. We need to be sure new members, their families and their friends
find our lodges to be not only inviting, but also beneficial in their
lives…spiritually, intellectually, and socially.
We do not have much time left before our ship takes on more water than we can
successfully bail out. With the accelerating pace of decline, the time to act
is now. We need to start embracing, communicating, engaging and rethinking at
the local, district, state and national level.
I have heard many respected members convey the notion they would rather focus
on quality than quantity and I couldn’t agree more. However, they fail to
recognize the basic laws of nature, economics, and statistics and that without
sufficient quantity, there will be no pool of quality individuals from which
to develop the next generation of Masonic leaders.
The institution of masonry has faced challenges in the past with declining
membership and was forced to fundamentally transform in order to survive.
We are facing another such event horizon. I think we would be well advised to
embrace this opportunity to guide its transformation into a better, stronger
and more inclusive fraternity that we can all be proud to call our own.
In the end, it ultimately remains our decision to evolve and progress or to
ignore and stay the course. Either way, the status quo will not hold and our
beloved fraternity will be transformed.
We can only hope that our actions will create a organization that is thriving
in future years rather than one that our children read about in the history
books as the great fraternity that once was.
Is this change inevitable or am I just a crazy tech obsessed futurist.