Worshipful Brother Frederic L. Milliken

As a Worshipful Master of two different highly regarded and very active Lodges in Massachusetts I devoted my terms in office to increasing membership in those Lodges. The fall off in new members is not something new to Freemasonry, nor is it confined just to the Craft, but can be found across the board, in many other clubs, organizations and societies. Even churches have been affected by a decline in attendance. 

The seminal work in the reasons behind the rise and fall of societies, what Scott Peck called “Community,” was a book written in 2000 by professor Robert D. Putnam titled, “Bowling Alone.” 

The 60s seemed to change everything. The Vietnam War and the corresponding sexual revolution had some effect. The drop out generation literally did exactly that – dropped out of everything. But there were other factors – the breakup of the family, changes in the role of women, the rise in popularity of computers and the Internet, even video games have been blamed for a loss in participation of group activities.

Professor Putnam’s work has now become dated even though he has moved on to a follow up book titled “Being Together.”  His warning that the national stockpile of "social capital" – our reserve of personal bonds and fellowship – is seriously depleted, has remained, however, as still something we need to attend to.

Getting back to steering the ship of those Lodges in Massachusetts the things that I tried have also become dated and they didn’t work. So let me tell you what isn’t going to solve the problem so that you don’t have to beat your head against the wall.

One of the things tried was to make the Lodge more social. It was thought at the time that if the Lodge offered more in the way of both Masonic and family social events that that would translate into attracting more members. It didn’t.

By far the biggest method tried to attract new members around 2000 was one that remains today. It goes something like this. Since most of society does not even know who we are, then the best way to attract new members is by community action, involvement and charitable work. Get out there and improve your community, do some good works and people will recognize you and want to become part of the Craft. It doesn’t work. I have tried it and seen it tried by Grand Lodge after Grand Lodge with little success. And when the community involvement, the charity is chosen by its publicity value then you have moved away from helping people as your top priority to helping yourself as the top priority. That is a corruption of Freemasonry as we are charged to give of ourselves expecting nothing in return.

Neither do TV ads, radio ads, banners or billboards bring you new members. The plain fact is that you cannot market Freemasonry. And why would you even want to?  Our grandfather’s or great grandfather’s Freemasonry was very tight lipped about any mention of the Craft in public. Yet they seemed to have few problems attracting new recruits. It’s the reputation that Freemasonry has not how hard it can blow its own horn that counts.

As membership continued to decline at the turn of the century Mainstream Masonry turned to One Day Classes, making a Mason in a matter of hours. But is not a Brother who has little knowledge of the Craft and who has not been mentored or instructed and educated really a Mason in name only (MINO)?  And does not this solution turn Freemasonry into the “Rotary with Regalia,” as Stephen Dafoe contended?

No one seems to have the definitive answer to increasing membership. But through years of trial and error and study and research I have some suggestions.

The first thing we have to recognize is that membership is primarily an individual problem or concern.

Consequently we need to realize that old time Masons have already tapped all the friends and relatives and acquaintances that they know to join Freemasonry. If you have been a Masons for 20 years, you have run out of people to steer into the Fraternity. So why are we asking these Brothers to bring in new members?

So who should we be asking? Why the brand new Master Mason(s) who was just raised, that’s who.  Here is a Brother who most likely has not even mentioned his involvement with Freemasonry to anybody but his family. Here is a Brother who has a full plate of possible joiners.

And the best way to see to it that he does bring in new members is to so inspire him at his degrees, especially the third degree, that he wants to sign up the world. That means doing excellent degree work with feeling not just a monotone reading out of a book. That means an excellent Charge delivered from the heart. Perhaps at the end of his raising you present him with a Masonic Bible that every Brother present signs.

For sure the officers of the Lodge should see to it that every relative, every friend, every co-worker who is a Mason is invited to his raising. But why stop there? Why not ask the Grand Master, or the Deputy Grand Master, or the Grand Senior Warden, or the Grand Junior Warden or the Grand Lecturer? Can you picture the Grand Master giving you a big hug on your raising?

Every effort should be made to make this a super special occasion for the Brother(s) being raised. A meal should be served or at the very least arrangements to go out after Lodge for pizza and the beverage of choice. Brothers should be encouraged to make presentations and gifts to the newly raised Mason. If the members wear a Lodge shirt, one should be given to him as a present from the Lodge.

Just before Lodge closes the Master should speak to the newest Master Mason(s) who was just raised and remind him that the Lodge is counting on him to bring in at least two new members in the ensuing year, cautioning him that we make good men better, we do not make bad men good. Freemasonry is not a rehabilitation society, and the Lodge needs to make sure that the new Mason understands that.

We have said that membership is primarily an individual concern. But, secondarily, it is also a Lodge concern. A well run Lodge that is inspiring its members has less problem obtaining new blood. But when you make Freemasonry boring, you drive Brothers away. And they are not going to recommend anybody.

That means that if your Lodge meetings are all business and nothing else you are cheating your members. If meetings are consumed with support this event and support that event and the Sisters ……and on and on then you have forgotten that Freemasonry is a voluntary organization. Remember that Brothers didn’t come to Lodge to be treated like oxen.

That includes too many fund raisers and turning the Lodge into a Service Club in order to impress the world how great Freemasonry is.

I have a friend, Brother Errol Hinton, who once compared the three legs of a three legged stool to the tenets of Freemasonry. One leg is Brotherly Love and Affection and alludes to the camaraderie and social part of Freemasonry. Another leg is Relief which is the charity and community service Freemasonry provides. And the last leg is Truth which is the search for knowledge allowing the virtues of Freemasonry to touch your heart. The three legged stool is used for milking a cow. If one leg is longer than the other two then the stool will tip over, its occupant spilling to the ground.

The moral of the story is that a successful Lodge maintains a good mix, a balance between all three tenets of Freemasonry. And sadly the one most often neglected is Truth. Think about a Christian church that has a lot of church parties, suppers, trips and mission work but never has a Bible Study. That’s not the way to run a church and that’s not the way to run Freemasonry. Brothers need to grow in knowledge of the Craft. That is a big part of making good men better.

So we have seen two good suggestions on growing a Lodge – run a good, well balanced Lodge and inspire and charge your newly raised Master Masons to bring in new members.





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