Growing A Lodge
Brother Frederic L. Milliken
There are two sides to the coin in maintaining viable numbers for a Masonic Lodge. One side of the coin is membership and the other side is retention. Paying due attention to both sides of the coin will deliver the highest yield.
Ask yourself what would induce you to join an organization. It must have something that you want, be able to do something for you that you find useful, necessary or uplifting. Most of us will look at the organization’s mission or mission statement trying to ascertain its ideals and purpose.
Fraternal organizations, like Freemasonry, are in a unique category. The benefit accrued to the individual member is camaraderie, giving back to society and the pursuit of knowledge in the context of morality. In Freemasonry these three aspects are more often labeled brotherly love, relief and truth.
When you analyze Freemasonry there is nothing wrong with its message. Perfected over hundreds of years it offers to the uninitiated the loftiest of goals, tried and true through many years of practice. While not for everybody, Freemasonry offers to those who are looking to put meaning and purpose into their lives along with tight male bonding, the perfect avenue for the expression of these desires.
Today’s society in all its complexity and with all the competition of other groups, organizations, societies, and interests that can be pursued in front of a screen without ever leaving the house, still has a niche for those men who want to give up superficial libertine pursuits for something with some substance and purpose. These men are often referred to as “searchers” or “seekers” and it is these men that Freemasonry needs to target.
While many may point to community action and societal charity as the best way for Freemasonry to attract the attention of those men of character who would make good Freemasons, empirical evidence, especially on the Mainstream side, refutes that position. While charity is one of the basic tenets of Freemasonry, it is not all of Freemasonry and most men who are looking to join just a charity will gravitate elsewhere, perhaps to the likes of the Lions Club, just as those who only wish camaraderie and nothing else will choose something like the Elks. Besides which, using charity as a means to market Freemasonry is a corruption of its ideals.
“Seekers” are those who are looking for just a little bit more or maybe even a lot more. They want the “whole enchilada,” a complete package that allows them to receive as well as give. They are looking for a reason for being here and then a way to express that reason, right here, right now on earth. Seekers are discovered in casual conversation, so it pays to talk about your Lodge and all it does, which is not direct solicitation. Whether it is at church, the workplace or the play place, once you open your mouth with something worthwhile to say, seekers will seek you out. All this goes to prove that there is no substitute for one on one. Advertising and marketing Freemasonry doesn’t get you members, especially quality members. But a heart to heart talk can do wonders. When you touch somebody else’s soul you have made a Brother for life.
Targeting the right prospects is the first step in making a Lodge grow. But even with doing this right we may face huge stumbling blocks in the path to keeping those we have admitted. This gets us into the issue of retention.
If our message is so good why are we having such a hard time of it? A good message does not implement itself. Perhaps the fault lies with our execution. Perhaps we are not delivering on what we have promised. When the seeker, the new candidate, sees that the ideals and virtues of Freemasonry are just paid lip service, he is out the door and gone forever.
Putting on bad, sloppy degrees is a turnoff and the best way I know of to lose a new Brother very quickly. If we take no pride in what we do then disaster awaits us. Pride begets enthusiasm which begets members who not only want to stick around but who can’t wait to tell the world what a great organization they belong to.
Failure to mentor new arrivals is a common mistake of some Lodges. Teaching and instruction are important so that the candidate understands what he is being given. Leaving a Brother going through the degrees to flounder around and try to “get it” all by himself is not only counterproductive, it is unMasonic. It is also a good idea for Lodges to have study sessions in between degrees for their candidates for the same reason. It is important for a Lodge to create an atmosphere that says that this is family. Families stick together and look out for each other.
Just as it is important in the life of a Christian church to hold Bible study for its community it is also important that a Masonic Lodge invest in continuing education for its members. A fully informed Freemason is one who understands the virtues and merits of his fraternity and because of that knowledge again takes pride in that to which he belongs, greeting the profane with enthusiasm. That will enhance his ability to explain his fraternity to those who do not have a good understanding of it and those who would make good future Freemasons. And that knowledge will bind him to the Lodge for a long term commitment.
The biggest mistake most Lodges make is to run hours and hours of business meetings. Devoting all that time to planning, finances, reports and assignments makes for sheer boredom. Soon many Brothers are making excuses why they can’t come to Lodge. With all that Freemasonry has to offer we all need to teach it, live it and express it together as a community.
This means coming up with interesting programs that combine bonding, charity and living Freemasonry. BBQs and picnics, Christmas and Thanksgiving community help programs, awards dinners, outdoor degrees, visitations to other Lodges are but a few suggestions. The purpose here is not to make a laundry list of all things a Lodge should do but rather head it in the right direction.
One of the most productive enterprises that a Lodge can undertake is what is often referred to as “casual bonding.” There is more Masonry discussed and taught after the Lodge closes over a beer and pizza than there is in the strict formality of the tyled Communication. When Lodge members really get to know each other they create family.
The keyword that runs throughout all this is excellence. The passwords to Lodge growth are to execute with excellence. Remember Freemasonry is special. Freemasonry is a way of life. Creating an ever larger family, initiating men into a new way of life is a reward beyond measure. If you build it they will come.
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