PEAKS AND VALLEYS
A recent survey of Grand Masters indicated a need for factual data on
"membership retention. " This Short Talk Bulletin has been prepared
to put the "problem" into perspective.
This is an age of super technology. The electronic hardware, such as
calculators and highly sophisticated computers operated by teams of
programmers, statistical specialists, analysts, forecasters and "whiz
kids," seems to have generated a new breed of "prophets of doom."
They are reminiscent of those of a few years ago who operated the
Ouija Boards and crystal balls, and who were also predicting the
demise of Masonry.
To listen to these alarmists, one would think that shrinking
membership is downright sinful and that within a matter of a very few
years, the only Masons left will be you and me.
Sure, statistics can prove or disprove almost anything. And these
computers can only produce results from the facts which their human
operators provide. A great many of the factors which affect
membership are not easily cranked into a computer. There are such
things as wars, economics, social unrest, population shifts,
taxation, transportation and even weather conditions which can
seriously show its effects upon the membership picture.
To get a better insight into the membership problem, we need to take
a long, hard look over the past half century. During the period
between World War I and World War 11, American Masonry suffered many
losses. The patriotic fervor of the First World War generated a great
deal of lodge activity. That
activity generated interest in membership. following the war, during
the "roaring twenties" social attitudes went through big changes.
Those were the days of wild parties, "flappers" and "bathtub gin."
The automobile became popular, plentiful and affordable.
Consequcntly, lodge attendance and activity
In the 1920's and 1930's, the United States was hit by a series of
disasters. Florida was hit by two devasting hurricanes. Floods swept
across Mississippi, New England, and Kentucky. The Western states
were struggling under the effects of drought and dust storms. And
then there was the matter of the Bank Crash and depression. They were
difficult times. And it was a hard period for Freemasonry. In 1941,
Masonic membership had dwindled to less than two and a half million
members. (A low point.)
Hitler's hordes were gobbling up one after another European country.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor-and America was again at war. The
national will became strong again. There developed a feeling of
togetherness. There was an urgent need for brotherhood . . for
unified efforts. Masonic lodges were a focal point of activity.
During World War 11, Masonic Service Centers were established by the
Masonic Service Association throughout the country near military
bases and in metropolitan Areas. There were also Masonic Service
Centers established in London, Paris, and Aukland. As an example of
some of the services performed by these centers, following are the
statistics for the first months of 1945.
Total attendance, all Centers, 904,847. Of all visitors, 12.86% were
known to bc Masons. Contacts made in posts, 8,460. Contacts outside
of posts, 8,919. Total contacts, 17,379. Checks and loans, 791; rooms
and apartments secured, I8,916; other services rendered, 3,776.
Patients visited in hospitals from hospital visitation Centers,
52,763. Total patients visited 75,559. of these, 15.4% were Masons.
A noble effort-in the name of Freemasonry. M.S.A. was thell, as it is
now, "Freemasonry's Servant. "
Activity at lodge level during the War Years generated involvement.
Involvement spawned increased interest. Petitions poured in. The
membership trend reversed; instead of losses, we showed constant
gains. The trend continued through the post-war years and through the
Korean War period, peaking at a total of 4,103,161 Master Masons in
The decline in membership since 1960 has reflected many of the social
changes affecting the nation. There have been large population
shifts. A large portion of Americans arc "on the move" to warmer
climates, job changes, retirement homes, and just plain traveling.
Air transportation has become an accepted way of life, encouraging
more and more people to travel. Keeping up with changes of address
has become an accepted way of life, encouraging more and more people
to travel. Keeping up
with changes of address has become a Lodge Secretary's nightmare. And
if a Brother doesn't get his dues notice, he frequently overlooks
paying his dues.
There's a whole mass of problems tied up in this situation, each of
which could be a major topic of discussion. A number of surveys have
been conducted regarding the large number of Masons suspended for
non-payment of dues. A basic conclusion is there is a loss of contact
. . . a lack of communication . . . and a lack of understanding. Too
many Brethren are not aware of how to "demit" or how to affiliate
with another lodge when they move. Too many don't know that, if they
cannot afford to pay dues, other arrangements can be made.
Frequently, we find that Brethren in financial
straits arc too proud to admit it.
And, then, once a Brother has been suspended for non-payment of dues,
he doesn't know the procedure for being re-instated. We find that too
often he is under the mistaken opinion that he must pay for all of
the years he has been suspended. This is an area of information which
needs to be made a matter of common knowledge.
The losses through death are normal and must be expected. Remember,
the large number of initiates in the 1940's are now more than thirty
years older. The hourglass and scythe are symbolic of time and the
bringing of human life and its time to a close. We can easily relate
this factor to our Masonic teachings.
The incidents of crime in the metropolitan areas particularly, have
been a factor in lodge attendance. Many are intimidated by the
reports of muggings, thefts, and vandalism. This has resulted in many
lodge consolidations, which in most cases does not make either lodge
stronger or more active.
Too many lodges have lapsed into unimaginative, apathetic, boring,
repetitive business meetings which do nothing to stimulate attendance
or interest. Those lodges quickly develop the problem of not having
anyone willing to take office.
A lodge can be compared to a place of employment, where one must
enjoy what he is doing; receive adequate pay; enjoy certain fringe
benefits and where one feels useful and needed. It helps if the
surroundings are attractive and there is a chance for advancement.
Harmony with the boss and with your fellow workers is also an
To be effective, the lodge, too, must provide an opportunity for
useful and needed involvement for a member to enjoy it. It helps
greatly if the Lodge room is clean, attractive and pleasant. The
Master, Wardens, officers and members must work at practicing
fellowship and strive for harmony. If these
elements are all present, the symbolic wages will be received in
abundance. The corn, representing plenty will be paid in plenty of
opportunity, plenty of friends, and plenty of work. The oil will
truly be represented in gladness, happiness and real joy; and the
wine will be that of peace, spirituality and health. The rewards of a
good life represented by these symbolic wages will apply to both the
members and the lodge.
It is not a Masonic "secret" that harmony is an essential ingredient
in a successful lodge. By working together in harmony, putting into
practice our tenets, and keeping the members informed and usefully
"employed," membership retention will not be a target for the
"Prophets of Doom."