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 unique to 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 todays 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 sence 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 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 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.

Adapt or die.

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 days.

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 network?

1. Embrace technology

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.

2. Improve communications

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 membership

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.

4. Rethink everything

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.

Summary

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 an 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.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

85 Replies to “Adapt or Die: On the Decline of Membership in the Masonic Fraternity”

  1. Mike you have precisely put your points together from our conversation earlier this month. I do not know but you may want to add the benefits younger folks would like to experience in the fraternity such as exercise facilities, community centers or as you mention age specific activities. You are dead on to identifying the problems and solutions. It is very difficult to get the decision makers to change direction even on the Titanic… Sid

    1. Good article; it addresses a lot of the issues facing us. Make no mistake about it, we are in a different time and the changes in society are coming at an alarming rates.. All service organizations are suffering and in small communities are dying. I think the approach should be straight forward with open discussion. Everyone knows what we do with our Ritual. Masonry revolves around that and new candidate.. Is the ritual out dated? I don’t think so. What is often the case the same people perform it and the new Mason sits on the side line? Get them involved right away is my motto. How do they learn the ritual, that is one area of concern with the new generation and where great improvement could be made.. What do people have their faces plastered too?? How can we utilize that? Please don’t say it’s a secret, everyone knows what we do.. That alone should strike up a conversation that we can learn from.. In Idaho a resolution has been proposed for Study, this will be a first step and if successful a stepping stone to further changes. We established a little bit of the electronic world last year and we need to do a lot more.

    2. Agreed Brother Sid. I cannot find anyone in my Lodge to golf, fish or watch sports. Instead it is all about smoking and sitting around for hours.

    3. Younger people aren’t as intrigued with “secrets” and rituals as were past generations. They also don’t see joining such organizations as leading to personal career advancement as did people like my father who came out of WWII and didn’t pursue college. They thought social relationships counted more in order to climb up the company ladder. Today it seems that getting online degrees quickly is more the norm.

    4. My Father was a devoted Mason for his entire adult life and he encouraged me to pursue becoming a Mason and I did so. In a phrase becoming a Mason was very disappointing for the organization misrepresents itself and in general it is so far out of touch and out of date I soon disassociated myself from it. Their so called “Brotherhood” does not exist and I would not recommend or encourage anyone to become a Mason.

    5. Identifying the problem is the first step; coming up with a viable solution is the much harder task. And in addressing possible solutions, there is a tendency to avoid the harsh reality that is a single four-letter word: WORK. At a time when our Lodges don’t send out a Trestleboard, or even a notice of meeting; when our Lodge Masonic leaders don’t plan an agenda for meetings; when Masonic Education is ignored; when our Lodges continue to focus on the boring and tedious items such as reading of the minutes, secretary and treasurer reports, paying bill, etc., we now expect the Lodge members to address the Herculean task of rebuilding membership. The membership problem goes back many years, but what exactly has been done to stem the tide? The answer to this question lies in the continuing and significant decline year after year. It’s as if we’re waiting for some miracle to happen and a wave of new members suddenly appears. That hasn’t happened, and unless there is a cultural sea change in the way our Lodges operation, it won’t happen. What our Lodges are doing is accepting new members and then allowing them to gravitate to the sidelines, eventually to drop out of the Fraternity. We aren’t losing members to death, and we are bringing in sufficient new members. Where we are losing members is to suspension for non-payment of dues, and eventually to permanent loss. This means these NPDs are leaving the Fraternity because they didn’t find what they were looking for. This makes it abundantly clear that unless we change the way our Lodges are run, we can expect the number of dropouts to continue, until we reach the point of financial non-sustainability. Membership must mean more than attending a business meeting and going home. A new Mason must have instilled in him from the get-go that membership means accepting responsibility and performing appropriately. By instilling this at the earliest possible time, it is hoped that that Mason will make acceptance and performance part of his life’s work as a Mason. Imposing duty, obligation and actual performance might well meet with initial resistance, but unless we shift the focus of our Lodges, we will most assuredly slide toward irrelevance…and that time is not very far off.

  2. I was thinking about this and I was actually looking at street gangs and how they have influence and it is basically money is the great equalizer but lack of morals and intergrity make it a short lived experience.

    We have Friendship, Morality and Brotherly Love are we really applying these tools?

    1. That is exactly the correct question. If not, then the interests of the young are better served by street gangs, for we are no more than another social club.

  3. Could not agree more, however our GL is now offering more Masonic Education programs than ever before in my time as a Mason. These programs seem to be well received by our new generation of masons and I think our new leaders may just emerge from the ranks of those who successfully complete these programs. With respect to numbers of members, has anyone decided what that number is or how many lodges we need to survive? When your lodge boosted 400 members was the active number of members more or less than it is now? Are today’s lodges charging enough dues to pay the bills. we have to remember that a Dollar today is not worth what it was fifty years ago. Times have indeed changed. a lot to think about and ponder.
    The Charlotte Scottish Rite has just went through this in the past couple of years and DC did some extensive work on numbers pointing out that the increase in membership after WWII and the Korean wars was an abnormality and that as this group of men pass on our numbers are returning to a more historically relevant place on the Bell Curve. Much to think about and much to change to keep our Fraternity alive and well. ” the only thing constant in the universe is change”

  4. I often consider myself part of this younger generation we talk about. Compared to the rest of our membership I am at age 37. But if I started having children younger, my son could be of age to join the fraternity. So what makes today’s generation different than the others? Does the 40 hr a week job exist where you clock in and clock out and forget about work when you go home. The answer is no. Many work as many hours as they can while others work from home with no real defined hours. They are never truely off work. They just takes breaks to do things they believe are more important. So…this brings us to our meetings. Are we creating meetings that are important enough for our younger members to sacrifice their time? What do they gain by attending? If we are just checking the box to say we had our monthly stated communications, do we really think our brothers will continue to sacrifice their time?

    1. Well said Jason. If we don’t provide relevancy for today’s members, they will continue find avenues that will…outside our hallowed halls.

    2. Great point. Unfortunately the Mason ‘s today in many lodges are boring as hell. I suggested a St Valentines Day Massacre Party with a 1920’s -1930’s theme with jazz music a few Brothers dressed as Al Capone Gang member and hats and cigarette holders for the Ladies 1920s style and show a related film like the Godfather. Serve pasta and wine as and invite new members. Unfortunately the old man mentality said no because they claimed it was controversial .So I agree why would a young member want to join a sterile outdated organization that has as zero energy and boring events. The great Mason’s of the past joined the fraternity because they got something out of it. I am sure that Paul Revere and the Freemason’s responsible for the Tea Party did more intellectually stimulating events then have a few pancake breakfest ‘s.

  5. This applies to all Masonic appendant bodies. Specifically for me, Eastern Star and Amaranth. We can’t exist without the Blue Lodges. We also had an influx of members who are now dying off. I’d like to see Eastern Star continue, but it has to change with the times.

    1. I agree Lorraine. My wife and I are members of the Eastern Star in my lodge. I feel it is too late for the OES in my state. I think we have passed the point of no return. It would require a major and rapid overhaul of the order to save it and I really don’t think the current generation of leaders are willing to risk a radical transformation to save it.

      1. Our chapters are losing their relevance because the membership is not interested in sitting through all of the introductions that are mandated by our national governing body. We know each other and are not interested in re-introduction. The ritual is very relevant when done correctly, but very few want to learn the archaic language of that ritual. I am about to be Worthy Matron for the 6th time and really not sure how to handle the challenge of chapter future, etc. This article really struck a nerve with me. We need the Master Masons and they need our support as well.

        1. Thanks for the comment Shirley. The OES is really struggling in our state as well. I fear it has pasted the point of no return and may not last another 10-20 years. Since our state’s OES membership is tied to blue lodge masons, saving the chapters will be a real challenge.

        2. Sure wish I would have joined this conversation a year ago Sister Shirley has hit the nail on the head. I, not long ago, attended an OES Official Visit out of state and the introductions lasted 93 minutes as I timed them. First they did informal introductions by marching distinguished members to the east and introducing them, then after the chapter was open we went through the formal introductions required by the state and national governing body. Then the WGM introduced some of them again during her remarks. That’s 93 minutes and the meeting hadn’t even started yet. Total meeting lasted almost 3 hours. Never again, as I knew everyone and didn’t need all the introductions. Lines for the restrooms at the close of the meeting where 8-10 people deep. The other issue for young girls and young masons is the dress required. Young people don’t dress up anymore. Young people want to be comfortable and young men hate ties while young ladies hate dresses. Young people live in a jeans generation. But as with most of masonry the OES is basically a geriatric fraternity and their view is change all you want after I’m gone. Adapt or die! And die they probably will.

    2. If the masonic lodge doesn’t join with the OES and work as a team. Then both will suffer with the lost of members. We as Mason’s can’t recruit but our ladies can say a lot to the younger generation and we as Mason’s can push for more members, both brothers and sisters in OES.

  6. A few years ago, I adapted this attitude of Masonic Restoration, and Observant Masonry, based upon the wonderful intentions and execution of those men associated with these movements. I wanted to bring a higher meaning, an increased awareness and a better overall experience. It speaks to some of the younger generation. It gives us seekers something to sink our teeth into…but the problem lies in reciprocity. There are seekers willing to seek but they don’t often contribute back to the repository with their own findings. They take their impressions and are satisfied with it, and chalk it up to an experience, often finding reasons to not attend a Lodge meeting, even as officers.

    In terms of adaptation, I thought by me adapting to these ways of doing things that there would be others who also wanted that similar experience. What I found was exactly as some of you have shared already…commitments with kids, with work, with life in general, and the Freemasonic experience I want wouldn’t produce consistent fruit, long-term. So, in some ways, my adaptation concept was off and a majority of men in my area wouldn’t adopt such changes without starting a new Lodge.

    Tech changes are good, education is good, high standards and all various attempts at fellowship are good…but if the main reason of self-improvement through symbolism and allegory combined with a commonality of likeminded men are not the basis that everyone will come together for, Freemasonry isn’t failing, it’s the men perpetuating the tradition in ways that suit themselves more then honour the tradition.

  7. What I believe is the problem is the lure of our society and the actuality of the society. Meaning the lure of Ancient and honorable society with secrets is the bases for all our new recruits but the prospective of the new member change with each lodge meeting and with each brotherly event held everything becomes mundane. This fact is due to the older members who are complacent and that hampers the expectations of new members and their ambitions. Now my suggestion is we must get back to the basics of FreeMasonry which make good men better but what does that entails. That entails slowly passing members through the blue house degrees to ensure proficiency, understanding and loyalty to and from the Craft also we must do more than fund raising and drinking social events. We must push members to higher levels of education which shows our concern for they’re progression and to have political and international social events to show the vastness of our Society and that sparks ambition. We must read todays terrain and understand that new members appeal to the lure of Ancient and Secret Society rather then a philanthropic social order . It goes deeper but this is at face value of my interpretation.

    1. As a senior-millennial and someone who has been lurking through comments here, you are 100% correct in our drive and interest.
      I believe that adapting to new technology and “evolving” would be the final nail in the coffin. We’re sick of technology, we’re trying to escape it.

      I think a step backwards would prove more valuable.

      1. I agree a return to the values of yesteryear would be good for the fraternity as well. My concern is that it is an impractical approach to the issues facing any membership based organization today. Self driving cars are coming, nearly everyone has a cell phone as their primary phone, more video is watched everyday on Youtube than all the movies produced since the invention of the media. The slow march forward to a technological future is inevitable. We just need to figure out how to adjust to it, before it consumes and replaces our beloved fraternity.

  8. I personally believe the original petition needs to be very basic and simple. I believe it is considerably to long as it is. A new applicant should be able to fill out a petition to join masonry in 5 minutes or less, then it should be up to the investigative committee to make sure it is a quality candidate. As a recruiter I find the average man today don’t won’t to spend the amount of time it takes to fill out the lengthily petition we currently have.

    1. That is the level of rethinking we need to embrace. However simple, the petitioning process needs to be reviewed. In my state the petition must be completed on a two sided paper form. Anything else is rejected. In my view the whole process need to be online, from the Grand Lodge website, including the option to pay online. That way the lodge secretary could be notified and the Grand Lodge background check could begin immediately.

    2. I recently petitioned to join a lodge in. This was in January it’s August now . I’ve been to 6 events going on 7. My background ck initially took a few days . But it was not sent to the lodge it was sent to me and it was In junk for 3 months! I asked about it and there was no follow through – that process was frustrating and the lack of communication almost caused me to say fuck this who needs it. IMHO the process and the communication is outdated and needs to be updated . It was not until I figured out what was the issue the proces continues. Still have not been to an actual lodge meeting . All social thas cost me $$. About $350

  9. I actually left the lodge after we stopped having activities. When I joined we had at least 20 members at a meeting. After that Master left, the two that followed did zero activities. I even spoke with the incoming master and offered to help. He ignored me and did what he wanted. I left and so did about 15 others. The members know what they want to do, it’s the older members who want things a certain way that mess it up.
    Also, I was asked to fill in a seat one night last minute. I only had a sentence part so I agreed. I was corrected on the floor in front of everyone because I missed one word or said something not perfect. Last time I ever took a seat.
    Adapt or die is right. Just not sure they can do it.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I understand your experience of the older members controlling the lodge. I really like the diversity of having the older members, but I don’t think should ignore the other age segments in the lodge. Our lodges need to understand that lodges are made up of different age groups and provide experiences to serve each group.

    2. Nick this type of thing is happening not only in lodge but OES and a lot of the other masonic organizations. There are members out there that can not memorize and are made to feel bad because of that. We have rituals and they need to be used when this happens. I would much rather have a person who can not memorize read their part and be a part of our organization than be humiliated and made to feel that they are less than the other members. A member who can read their part with feeling and love, to me gives a better impression to the new member or to a member who has not been to a meeting in a long time than that member who has to be prompted every two words. Younger members don’t always have the time to get their parts memorized and when they are made to feel that if they don’t get their part memorized they are bad for the organization. They don’t want to come back and they don’t. Memorizing isn’t all there is when it comes to telling the stories of our organizations. Each of our rituals have a story to tell and when that flow is broken those stories can be hard to understand and make it difficult to reach that understanding. The youth I believe want to understand that story, but when they are humiliated because they don’t stand or say a word just right, you can’t blame them for not coming back. I have a lot more to say but for now I will stop.

      1. Thanks for you comment. I know of a few members in my own lodge that have never taken an active role because they are not interested in the memory work required.

    3. Thank tou very much.Infact in my country Kenya things are not going well.First the Lodge members are the ones who discourages the membership .For sure i can say Freemasonry in Africa expecialy in Kenya highly secretive ,why do this guys cant feel proud being in the Oldest and Gratest Organisation why shouildn’t they be proud of their loved fraternity.Since i had the strong desire to be a mason it is almost a year now and no even a single mason in my local lodge is ready to listened to vews from deffrent petittioners.They always say they are busy to talk about masonry .Surely i regret to be in such a country that denies my greatest opportunity in life.

  10. I am one of these “Millennial Freemasons” you speak of. I’m a professional with a full-time job and another part-time job, in addition to being a PhD student. I live with the love of my life in an area where the cost of living is one of the highest in the US (and where the salaries don’t keep up). I don’t own a TV and I don’t like talking on the phone. I have had the same set of checks in my checkbook my entire life, I carry very little cash, and usually regard going to the bank as a waste of time. My laptop, phone, and car are the means with which I accomplish pretty much everything – and the three synch up seamlessly.

    So when you talk about the lifestyles of our young members, the demands they face, and how they have a lack of time – believe me, I get it.

    Like many younger Freemasons, I didn’t join to sit around, smoke cigars, drink cheap beer, and piss in guys’ pockets; I drink or smoke, nor do I like sitting around for extended periods of time being unproductive. I joined Freemasonry to learn, to be of service, and to find good, like-minded men.

    Over the course of the last eight years, I have been driven away from some aspects of Freemasonry and drawn to closer to others. For example, I joined the Scottish Rite and was a charter member/principal officer of a chapter of Knights of Saint Andrew (KSA). The Orient and Valley “leadership,” rather than being supportive and empowering the Knights, let their egos get in the way and revoked the chapter’s charter under the pretext of lies (they wanted the chapter to have a constitution for show and not to actually follow, and to appoint a shadow government of puppets as the chapter’s officers). Such behavior was incredibly disgusting, especially within the context of Freemasonry. On the other hand, I have felt the love and support of the Brethren (excluding the Valley “leadership”) during times of hardship, and leaders within the Blue Lodge have gone out of their way to let me know that they care for me, trust me, and really listen when I speak. As a result, I have committed myself to being of service to the Lodge and taking care of those same people. I now serve as Secretary of my Blue Lodge and, even though I don’t really enjoy administrative tasks, find the job very rewarding because I know that I am contributing to the success of the Lodge and helping those I sincerely care about.

    If you’re looking to address the most fundamental problems of Freemasonry, address the dictators and egocentric behaviors. Don’t preach what you don’t practice – nobody likes a hypocrite, much less a bunch of them in one room. Stop trying to be like other organizations, go along with fads, and DO NOT EVER compromise the core tenants and traditions of Freemasonry by advertising, doing “online video Degrees,” or trying to bait people in. Instead, live up to the principals that we are supposed to have been keeping up all along.

    During the one year that our KSA chapter was up and running, we focused on education, service, and leadership. We drew in dozens of new guys who came to every meeting, including many who said joining KSA had been a top priority for them ever since they were an apprentice. We ensured every new “Squire” (a new member undergoing a mandatory year of probationary membership while completing several challenging objectives) had his own sponsor/mentor who was personally vested in his success. By actively seeking out the opinions and suggestions of our membership, we ended up creating very successful online learning platforms, service events, and partnerships with other Masonic and community entities. We broke down ridiculous barriers between what had become competing factions and started engaging in joint activities. All of this served to strengthen our Masonic bonds, and no one appreciated it more than our newest members.

    It’s time for Masons to take a good, hard look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about what the real membership issue is. Enough with the finger-pointing and excuse-making; we can address these issues only if we are willing to work on ourselves first, and then live up to what we portray ourselves as.

  11. There is a great book that discusses this phenomena: Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. I encourage anyone who is remotely interested in reviving this great fraternity of ours to read that. It is scary and sad, but the youth of today don’t “join” like our forefathers did.

    Like they say, “Who ever finds the cure for the common cold will be wealthy beyond imagine.” I think the same can be said for the man who figures out how to reverse this problem and bring back the fraternity to something that the glory days enjoyed.

  12. Nailed it, as my new raised 23 yr. old son would say. I had the privilege earlier this year to attend a lecture give by M.W. Avi Barones, Jr. PGM of the State of Israel. As scientist, during his term he undertook a study on where it made the most sense to recruit for members. His conclusion, for Israel at least, and probably here as well. The ideal age is 35 – 40. In Israel all men (and women) after finishing high spend the next 3-6 years in the military. After that is college or trade school. Some time in that period is marriage and children plus getting the career going. He hypothesizes by 35, most are pretty well settled and ready to find something to jump into away from work and home, even for just a couple nights a month. All that said, after 4 of the last 6 years in the East, my lodge will merge by months end. When I was W.M. the first time (’87-’88) and, interestingly, in my mid 30’s we were over 400 strong now barely 100.

  13. I’ve been a Mason for almost 27 years. I hit the ground running after my EA degree. We had a very active and dedicated group of Masons in our lodge, including more active Past Masters than probably any lodge in the state. We’ve had a strong presence of Military retirees. We typically have 40-50 members at our two stated (business) meetings each month and a respectable number at the degrees. We have more new petitions than most other lodges in the area. We’re known for the quality of our ritual. We have a great many past District Instructors and DDGMs. We even have two Past Grand Masters and current Grand Line Officers who attend regularly and often. So, to all outward appearances, we are doing well.

    Nowadays you can pick out the real go-getters and nudge them in the right direction to begin their Masonic careers. But, we’re missing a great many new Masons after we’ve spent a great deal of time and money on raising them. They attend for a short while then disappear. Many will still pay dues but won’t attend meetings or even other events. I make it a point to stay in touch with these Brothers and in most cases they don’t see a connection between the reasons they knocked at the door and the activities we offer. I consider this could be a mentorship problem because of a big difference in how these men think. Back in the 60’s, this was known as a generation gap. I’ve heard many of our older Brothers bemoan the differences: tattoos, piercings, hairstyles, casual clothing, etc. They have said this difference is off-putting. The prevailing thought seems to be that they’ll “come around.”

    The world of work and play has changed considerably and it will get worse. The so-called millennials will further rock the boat. So, we have to learn what these changes are all about and if it’s even possible to fit into their world.

    I want to focus a minute on the family activities. There are plenty who want to do these things and when I was “going through the line” on my journey to the East, I involved my family. My sons were in DeMolay. My wife helped me with food preparation and transporting my sons to events. My daughter was there to help even though she was never interested in Rainbow. She did cooperate and made my life easier. All of this having my family around this great group of men was good for them and for me. But, the core reason I was in the lodge was not for all these family activities. Not all families will do what mine did. The core of our Fraternity is men associating together. Good men learning from other good men. This is the main focus. If you are proposing we change that and become a social club, I’m done. I’m a perpetual member and will gladly leave that in place. But, I’ll lament the loss of true Masonry. There is a reason that men learning from other good men a necessary element of our society. It goes back to tribal times. Men and women are different. They think differently. Sometimes men need to associate for a greater cause without the presence and direct influence of women.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like women. I enjoy having them around me and I have learned a great deal about connecting with people from my wife and even my daughter. But, Freemasonry at its core is about men mentoring men. If we are to survive as a fraternity we need to remember this and we need to share this with the applicants to our organization.

  14. I cannot stress the importance of concern #2. It is an honor to be initiated into the fraternity, around this time last year in fact . At the age of 24, I am definitely one of the youngest “active” members of our lodge. I feel as though there is a extreme lack of communication within the lodge between the “older” and “younger” generation. I feel in order to promote more unity within the brotherhood, there should be an emphasis on the basics, the meeting of young and old men (all properly vouched for) sharing time & experiences. Let’s get back to that. As the article stated, there are many like me, who are infinitely interested in getting invloved hands on while being active, however there are few opportunities to do just that.

    Furthermore, I feel that the line between “mainstream” and “pha” masonry should be deterioted. If your lodge/grand lodge is recognized by the UGLE, then that should be the determining factor of who is “recognized”. Getting rid of division within our brotherhood would speak volumes to the world and promote the welcoming of all good men.

    Just my thoughts, much love brothers!

  15. Sad but very true. This seems to be the norm not only for us, civic clubs,churches. How ever my main concern is the Masonic Fraternity. Our fraternity has been thru difficult times before,and has come thru. I feel the main force needed to combat this is Good leadership. Starting with the Blue Lodge. I feel the first introduction into Masonry,must be the most important, stepping across the threshold ,this can,and at times break the candidate. How is your lodge conducted work wise, wise.? A master must be strong,and have excellent leadership ability, Must be Masonic minded.personable,knowledgeable ,not only in ritual
    but the whole workings of the fraternity

  16. Hello Michael,

    I’m a fellow tech obsessed futurist and PM of Blendon 339 in Westerville, Ohio. At least with regards to getting more of the fraternity to embrace technology, I launched my own project last year.

    Freemason Marketing is a free project devoted to demystify, give how-to examples, explain the importance of, etc for modern Masonic PR infrastructures. Aka websites and social, which most of this fraternity doesn’t have even in a basic form.

    I’d love to collaborate!

  17. What I consider wrong in similar articles is the premise that the 1959 peak number of Masons (4,103,161 – according to MSANA) is considered the “norm” or the normal. Well, it wasn’t. Those were inflated numbers by the mass ‘arrival’ (what’s the antonym for exodus?) of post-war joiners.
    They also changed the face and the spirit of Masonry to fit their needs. However, with them goes also their needs and expectations… but no changes have been made to address the newer joiners.
    I do not think we should aim to have again such a huge number of Masons, we should rather aim to attract the elite of the future generations.

  18. They like interacting w masons outside lodge, like a chance meeting at an airport, or a conference, or sporting goods store.

    We need to help these situations increase in frequency.

  19. It is easy to criticize and not so easy to bring forward new ideas. It seems to me that many of the lodges try to run the lodge as a business and in so doing they must balance the books monthly. This is as it should be, however in the 3 lodges that I have belonged to very little money is put back into the lodge and it’s activities, as some would call it deficit spending. The lodge should invest some of it’s money for the future of the lodge. I have sat in lodge month after month and listen to “shall we pay our bills” after a list of $6,000 to $8,000 is read – with $100 for a youth organization, and usually nothing to subsidize the events so that our younger members can afford to attend.
    When I did the degrees, I saw my coach at his home 2 or 3 times a week to learn “mouth to ear” I did not know that there was a code book. As the years went by I heard more and more about how the lodge should shorten the ritual to make it easier to advance from one degree to the next. It was at those times that I realized the importance of having an individual coach – and NO code book. I had at least one good friend to help me to progress in the degrees – MY coach. I could walk into a lodge and know that MY coach was there to help me become a Master Mason.
    As Masons, we need to get back into the community and do some good so we are can then be proud of what we do. Each lodge should have a library of Masonic books. So that new members can learn the meaning of Masonry. And most important – get advice from the members as to what they want to see in the lodge. I have felt for 30 plus years that the lodge should publish a list of it’s members with vital information.
    There have been times that I have wanted to call a member (who I saw every month in lodge) but did not know his phone number or is birthdate or…. It seems to me that more communication with each other would go a long way to retain and grow the lodge.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jerry.

      To your point about lodges investing in more activities, I know my state is very restrictive regarding how the money to the lodge is spend. I also know of effort to bypass those restriction by the members forming outside groups to fund and create the own activities independent of the lodge. This was worked our quite well and the lodge was and is the avenue to spread the word about the outside activities.

      Regarding the ritual, I understand the reason for mouth to ear learning and wholeheartedly agree with those reasons…now that I have gone through it. However, to some younger time starved members this can be a turn off. Imagine if a retailer forced you to work that hard to buy their product. Please don’t misconstrue learning the ritual with buying a product, but we have to understand the initial feeling of the candidate and have a very good explanation of why the mouth to ear method is so necessary and be able to clearly articulate those benefits.

      As for being active in the community, this is what I have been preaching for years. In my state we are forbidden from “advertising”. However, I work in the tech industry and we don’t really believe in traditional advertising. We prefer what we call growth hacking. One of the core principles is “the product is the marketing”. If we as a group we more active in our communities, they may see first hand the benefits we could provide and many might become interested in our fraternity and the impact we are having.

  20. Some great observations and suggestions in the comments section here, thanks for posting a provocative article Michael. I’m a younger Bro (late 30s) who has been in pretty much all the situations depicted above about busy young milennials etc. I’ve also served as WM three times in two different Lodges, as District Education Officer, and as the Grand Lodge of BC & Yukon’s Grand Junior Deacon. I’ve also served on several Grand Lodge Committees on Leadership, Mentorship, Education, New Member Experience etc. and organized and MCd our premier Masonic Education event here in Vancouver for a number of years. All this to say that I have fully invested myself in the Craft and put considerable time and effort into building up Lodges and improving the overall experience. I don’t regret a minute of it, but I feel like a salmon swimming against the stream sometimes that’s for sure. I apologize for this lengthy comment but your article and these comments has got me all riled up.

    While I don’t disagree with your proposed solutions to engage membership I want to clarify why? This has been touched on by Bro. Horvath, in the question of what is a “normal” amount of Freemasons in North America, in a Lodge etc. I worry that if we chase the glory days of 400 member Lodges and several million Masons nation wide we are in fact not adapting, as you suggest we do.

    Adapting, to me, is looking at what our numbers are at now, why younger men are being drawn to the Craft (why some stay while too many others leave) and what the right size and level of commitment is reasonable in any given Grand Jurisdiction or community to ensure a good experience (and a diversity of experiences). In BC we have steadily declined to the point where we have 5,000 Masons supporting 200 Lodges, and maybe a third of those Lodges are considered “healthy” and stable, with maybe even a dozen or so actually growing. This to me speaks to an organization that has spread itself thin trying to operate with the infrastructure (Halls, Temples, Shrines, that all cost money to sustain) the breadth of commitment (Visits to dozens of weak and struggling Lodges, constant requests to help out here or help out there because so and so can’t make it etc.) and measures of success that stopped being relevant decades ago. Like number of Masons on the books.

    I’ve seen young Bros burnout or be chased out so many times, being asked to go through the Chairs when they are at a point in their lives where they are just not ready to do that, being asked to help pitch in to give a lecture or even sit in an Officers Chair for another Lodge that can barely get enough guys in the room to open. In the more distant past Lodges had a “backbench” of Past Masters who could jump in and help out, and members who didn’t want to go through the Chairs right away, who could also help out.

    In the more recent past, many Lodges have turned themselves into “degree mills” judging their success for the year on how many EA, FC and MM Degrees they conferred only to have 2 out of 10 stick around afterwards because all the Lodge does is try to bail water by conferring degrees all year to stop the bleeding and get their numbers up to where they, for whatever reason, think they should be. Those younger PMs get burnt out, those newly raised MMs get tired of sitting and watching degrees conferred every meeting – or conversely feel pressured to step up and commit to going through the Chairs when they have a newborn baby, just started a business, are finishing grad school etc.

    Lodges consolidating is good, and our numbers shrinking is also not a bad thing if we adapt to being a smaller organization that delivers the best possible Masonic Experience and not strive to be a larger organization that delivers a half-assed one.

    Embrace Technology/Improve Communications – I don’t believe we will need to embrace technology in some radically engaged way if we are creating experiences in Lodge (and outside of Lodge, non-tyled social events, bring speakers to town, book clubs, or even pub nights to watch sports or whatever) that make Bros want to come back. Embracing technology might be an invitation to place blame on our lack of proficiency in Slack, WhatsApp, Google Meetup or whatever when we are persistently engaging in communication to new avail without persistently engaging in producing the best quality experience in Lodge that we are capable of (the ultimate cause of our problems).

    I think if younger Brethren want to communicate via any range of apps to share news or just talk Masonic shop they should be fully empowered and welcomed to, but I don’t expect my seventy-five year-old Secretary or Treasurer to have to adapt by using those platforms.

    So how do we do create that better experience?

    Engage the Membership, yes! But I believe we have to engage them in a different framework. We need (NEED) Fewer Lodges, so we can consolidate and build up that backbench a healthy Lodge relies on. We need fewer meetings, Lodges can work towards consolidation by conferring Degrees jointly. We need better meetings, conduct business of BOGP before Lodge, and invest in programming (Ask the Brethren what they want? Speakers? Author visits? Historians? Debates?). We should coordinate a mix of activities out of Lodge that engage our partners, families, friends, and those who are interested in possibly joining our Fraternity.

    Rethink everything. Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I think we have to Rethink A LOT. For starters how sacred your Lodge number or name is. Get over it. If I were a founding Bro of my 148 year old Lodge here and I knew that today we would risk folding over consolidating because we were kvetching over losing our single digit number or our name I would be embarrassed for us (thankfully we aren’t – but I’ve seen this too many times).

    One way we can rethink Freemasonry is to stop believing that we are preserving the past and start embracing our opportunity and obligation to build the future. That, after all, was a key part of what drew so many interesting men to this storied Fraternity in the first place was it not? In order to do that we need to stop judging ourselves against the past and begin judging ourselves against where we ideally want to be in the future.

    Sorry for taking up so much space here on your page, I feel like that was an utterly self-indulgent rant! Best of luck to you and the Brethren in your community Michael.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Starting this conversation was my intent and am glad it has finally begun.

  21. I agree with everything except emphasizing quantity over quality. A big part of the decline of Masonry is the fact people don’t see it as anything special. That is because in many lodges, the only way to get denied is to have a felony. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve told someone I’m a Mason, and their response has been along the lines of “oh yeah, such and such was a Mason. He’s in prison now for (insert random felony).” Or, telling people that someone is a Mason, and them looking at me like we’re crazy for letting them in. People don’t perceive being a Mason to be anything special anymore, and it’s because we’ve turned into a slightly more secretive Kiwanis Club that’s shrouded in conspiracy theories. I agree that we have to adapt or die, and that means changing how we’re perceived in the community. That means accepting the fact that people can find literally anything (and I mean anything) about our organization with a simple Google search. We have to accept that lodges are going to have to consolidate and form one big presence in the community instead of multiple small ones. Most of all, we have to stop treating lodge like it is literally the most important thing in the world. People want to make a difference in the community, but too many Masons get burned out too quickly. We have jobs, families, and other things that frankly are more important than lodge. Anytime you ask someone to choose, lodge isn’t going to be their choice. I’ve seen way too many instances of brothers getting berated and insulted behind their back and too their face for daring to have a life outside of lodge, or not showing up to every single meeting. Lodge should be something we look forward to, but WE have turned it into a stress-inducing nightmare that is slowly eating itself. It’s time for Masonry to start being honest with itself, and acknowledge some basic truths about the lodge. Otherwise, there won’t be a lodge to go to.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I agree with quality over quantity, but if we don’t attract the next generation of potential members we will have no one to be concerned of whether they are worthy of membership or not.

      1. If the key to solving all our problems is simply reaching out to young people, why are college fraternities and sororities declining? As the number of people attending college goes up, fraternity and sorority membership is declining. These organizations are ran by and for millenials, and succeeding generations. If all we have to do is buy a new TV or computer, why are these organizations in decline? To go even further; if young people don’t like membership-based organizations, why are fairly strict religions like Islam and Mormonism drawing in young people like it’s going out of style? The fact is, young people have scarce resources, and they’re going to use them where they get the most return. They can use the computer or watch TV on their own. I’m not saying lodges shouldn’t utilize technology, they should. However, the lack of technology is far from the reason lodges are declining. We’re acting desperate, and in the process losing our identity. We’re becoming nothing more than a social club that has no principles, and is shrouded in flowery rhetoric about brotherhood that frankly doesn’t always exist. We’ve lowered our standards to the point that anytime good people do join, they quickly tire of showing up, so away they go. We belittle people who don’t come regularly but still faithfully pay dues, and then blame everyone but ourselves when they stop paying. What really gets me is that after all that happens, we have the gall to wonder why people are leaving, and no one wants to join! It’s a cycle that happens in nearly every lodge I’ve ever been in, and no one seems to realize it or want to change it. Lodges get everything they can out of people, then cast them aside as soon as they can’t make a function, miss a meeting, or question the “decision makers”. People want to join organizations with like minded peers that allow them to be productive. Masons talk a good game about wanting millenials, but our true rationale is VERY transparent: we mainly just want their money. As long as our true motive is not about helping them develop into good men, but rather funding our lodges, they are going to look elsewhere. If we really want to get young people in, then we need to offer them something more than stress-filled meetings, and constant lectures about the importance of paying dues on time, attending regularly, and coming to every function. We need to offer them something they can be proud to be a part of, not something they’re embarrassed to claim. We have the framework to do all of that, but it needs some TLC. It’s time for Masonry to be honest with itself about its internal shortcomings. Once we do that, maybe we can come up with an actual solution instead of buying some new electronic contraption, or having yet another community picnic that only we attend. For the record, I am a millennial Mason, and I’m currently sitting as Master of my lodge. Thought I’d add that before I get accused of being an old fogie.

        1. Thanks for your comments. I am by no means saying technology is the answer to our problem. Want I am saying is the way to reach the younger generations is by utilizing technology. We have to segment the group to potential candidates and serve them in different ways. Older candidates we will reach in different way than young families and even different from young single men. Just have a lodge is not marketing. A one size fits all plan is not and will not work.

    2. I’m saddened to see Masonic lodges become de facto Diners’ Clubs. The men seem to just want to meet once a month, eat, shoot the breeze with their buddies and go home. That includes younger (30s and 40s) men too. Furthermore, preferring to dress sloppily at these gatherings. They have little interest in uniquely Masonic endeavors, i.e. education, ritual and visitation. I did not join Masonry for that and I doubt if anybody did. Friendly and social inetcourse is great. Breaking bread with your fellow man is certainly enjoyable, but is that why we joined Freemasonry? When filling out our petitions did we think? Oh boy, I’m going to find a friend. I’ve heard of them, but never had one. Come on ! We had friends , dinners and social engagements before joining the Craft. And, the same is true about charity. We saw collection plates in houses of worship, coin boxes in stores and have junk mail a bunch asking for donations. Yet, sadly so many brothers seem totally hung up on those two things and are indifferent to the things one can only find in our acraft.
      I’m a PDDGM, PDDGHP, DDGC, OPC, 33° and more.

  22. When I had the privilege of serving my Lodge as Master, I thought about what I want to do, long and hard. I had a step up night, did a Table Lodge, even had education nights talking about things pertaining not only to the Blue Lodge but also York & Scottish Rite, had some family dinners, pancake feeds and meals served by our Masonic Youth Groups. By our Grand Lodge standards, I didn’t have a successful year, but judging by what members and the family members said to me, I had one of the best years many had seen it a long time. Besides being a PM, I’m a PHP – York Rite Wichita Chapter #33; PSM – AMD Wichita Council #299; PEC – Knight Masons – Kansas Council #53; PVM – Scottish Rite Knights of St Andrew Chapter and was a Charter member and organizer of the last three mentioned organizations.

  23. Brother Michael Harding points are well taken. As a 36 year member, PM, District Committeeman, KCCH and Treasurer of my Lodge for 11 years I feel I have some credibility to add some thoughts to Brother Harding’s very important statement. Indeed I think it is more than past due that we have a respectful and honest debate at the grassroots level concerning the issues Freemasonry faces.
    While I believe Freemasonry’s fundamental values will sustain the fraternity over time I also believe it is necessary to adapt to change to overcome our present difficulties. Society has changed dramatically during the past fifty years. We must understand that change if we are to in a meaningful way consider ideas and implement programs that may be of real benefit. We must understand that the amount of time a young man can devote to an organization of this type is much more limited than it was 75 years ago. We must understand that modern day spouse’s according to every survey and analysis I have seen are extremely resentful of any time taken away from the family.
    So what are the practical measures we can take to address these changes?
    Respectively, I suggest the following for debate:
    We should task our district associations and Blue Lodges with formulating ideas to improve our membership status that could be presented to the Grand Lodge for their consideration. These ideas could include streamlining our entry process (I’ll get some grief for that) including a one day class. Branding for any organization is essential so I think we should be focusing on only one civic activity statewide such as the excellent Child ID program and formulating a very focused statewide publicity campaign extolling the bedrock virtues of Brotherhood, Honor and friendship.
    We must somehow improve the appeal of our meetings. They are boring and few modern young men will attend on a regular basis. We must improve our mentoring process and immediately include our new members in important work in the Lodge.
    I know there is a tremendous amount of dynamic intellect in our Fraternity that can be used to address our problems. It only takes leadership and a clear understanding that we can not continue business as usual.

  24. We should not touch these sensitive items in the open.
    We are living times where the enemy of values is everywhere in the form of Liberalism and atheism.
    The enemy we all know is lurking and trying to give us a final blow.

    Let’s stick to what we know and how we know it, this may shrink and later expand again it happened before it will happen again but let’s keep the craft untouched.

  25. John Pisani got it right when he stated that our meetings are boring . Whilst I understand the no changes to the ritual can be made in the body of masonry etc. it is a great pity that the same ritual is carried out all over the country . Where I come from the basis of the ritual is the same but due to the long history there are variations in the way it is performed for instanced there is the Emulation ritual and several variations of it dependant on whether your origins were Army or Royal Navy. My mother lodge ended up with a mixture of several and as such is unique . May be starting earlier and having a meal in the masonic tradition after the meeting and utilising the masonic songs at the meal such as the entered apprentice song and others when appropriate would make for an exciting evening . visiting would surely increase as there would be variation “have you been to such and such lodge they do things a bit different but worth the trip ” Adapt get back to the basics and make the evening enjoyable and re-establish the long lost traditions of individual Lodgers , different but with the same purpose

  26. Bottom line, I believe the ritual work in the stated meetings are just too long and laborious for this day in age people don’t want to sit through all of that hours of rituals in meetings. I have actually seen members from other lodges come when they thought it was a stated meeting night and leave because it was a degree night. The degrees just take too long and nobody wants to sit through that. We need to come up with Abridged versions of the degrees and shorten it all up for the time constraints of this generation. History is all fine and dandy but it’s going to kill the craft

  27. Brother Kerry; I would like to politely differ with you. My Grand Lodge is the Grand Lodge of A.F. and A.M. of Canada in the Province of Ontario. The ritual of the Degrees is the backbone of our Gentle Craft. If the ritual work is precise and accurate the time it takes to do a degree moves very smoothly. The importance of the various Degrees I will not go into at this time….but for me if ritual work is presented well and with confidence it is totally enjoyable to watch and take part in. If, however, there are many prompts, hesitations etc…then it becomes tedious and burdensome. I would not like to see our Ritual as it currently stands “fixed” as the old saying goes, if it is not broken, why fix it. Brother Kerry…I thank you for your comment on this very interesting paper and congratulations to Brother Michael for writing same.

  28. Sorry the comments where closed. The system automatically closed them 28 days after publication. I have reopened them and this time they should stay open.

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

  29. The PRIMARY issue with Freemasonry is that it is incompatible and often antithetical to Christianity. Any Mason who professes to be a Christian doesn’t know the Bible or the basics of Christianity. Since the organization is built on myths and ideals that are incompatible with the Christian faith, it will fail – just as cults and other anti-Christian groups will. Its foundation is sand, not bedrock. Yes, there are a number of Christian denominations also declining but the bulk of those groups have abandoned or diluted the faith and the authority of the Bible. The Church will endure; other groups claiming to have the answers to and secrets of life will fail and end up in the dustbin of history.

    1. From your comment, it is obvious that you are not a Mason and know very little about it other than the internet rhetoric.

      Masonry is filled with teachings and lessons from many religions, including Christianity. Every Lodge has a bible on the alter as it rule and guide to faith.

    2. And you no nothing about Freemasonry. Freemasonry was never a religion but started as a trade union that attempted to keep the technology of building great structures secret from the illiterate masses to demand high wages. Similar to countries today trying to limit nuclear technology. As the Mason’s became more powerful they attracted more influential people and once the secrets of building were mainstream the became organization became more social.

      The Founding Father’s were Mason’s so according to you they were heathens thus America was founded by heathens.

      Freemasonry has zero to do with religion or Christian Principles.

    3. Having been a Freemason for more than 20 years I count as my Masonic friends many Pastors, Preachers and Priests. Since they have all graduated from a Seminary I have to give your statement about not knowing the bible or basics to be unfounded. The primary Christian faith that has a problem with Freemasonry is the Catholic church. I have heard many reasons for this but cannot state with surity which is correct. I do understand that the current pope did write an anti-masonic paper earlier in his career. Since he is not now and has never been a mason I must question his data source. If it was from “Former Masons” I must dicount that since it comes from a man that has violated an oath he took publicly to his God. Do you trust a man that would do that?

  30. My Brothers
    If we honor the Great Architect, then he will honor us. If we fall short of honoring him. He will let us fall.
    Barry Butler PM, Brandon Lodge #114

  31. A quick Google search reveals numerous articles on the subject of Masonic membership problems. There is a common thread in these articles; they all require the same two thing to address these problems….and it is these two things that are in short supply these days–strong, active leadership and work. To truly implement the well-taken suggestions to rebuild a vibrant Fraternity, it will take continuous work spearheaded by strong, active leadership. Ask yourself the following: Do we have fraternity-wide leadership that is committed to pursue and implement programs that involve the hard work necessary to rebuilt? And is the membership committed to perform the necessary hard work?

    1. I understand your points, but think the time has passed for “fraternity-wide” leadership or fully committed membership. In this modern era I think all that is need is a few forceful leader to create a fraternity that the community wants to be a part of, instead of having to be sold on its merits. I am in the marketing industry and we have a saying for our clients. “The product is the marketing”. If it is not, it will require much more work to get someone interested in buying into it.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

  32. My father became a mason in the 1950s and for a time served as the lodge chaplain. However, the time demands of attending funeral services became onerous and he ceased to be an active member. I am not a mason, but have read with interest a great deal concerning rituals, etc.

    Rituals have fallen out of favor in various walks of life. Many denominations have moved away from them in worship. Commencement ceremonies often lack dignity and spectators no longer dress up for them. I suspect many view masonic rituals with passwords, signs, and grips as a bit silly and unattractive. I can see the seriousness of them, but apparently many do not.

    The decline in religious belief is now widespread with a quarter of the population describing themselves as having no religious affiliation. The use of the term “atheist” still carries a stigma that many likely avoid though they live their lives without any religious participation. or apparent belief. This obviously reduces the number of potential masonic members.

    Obviously, freemasonry is not for everyone. From what I have read, traditional observance lodges seem more attractive to me as they seem more serious. Married couples expect to do things together today and “a night out with the boys” is a dated concept. The Grand Master of PA recently published a letter bemoaning the decline of membership below 100K despite all attempts to increase interest with one day classes, etc. I wish you masons well, but time appears to be against you.

  33. Brother Michael you’re absolutely correct in everything you say. The best year for masons was 1959 with 4.1 million nationally. As of December 2016 we are down to 1.1 million nationally. Since 1959 we’ve lost 3 million to death, demit and NPD. We’re losing brothers at the rate of 40-50,000 per year on average. in 2016 only two states increased their membership. Alaska and Arkansas. Alaska increased by 27 members while Arkansas increased their membership by almost 4675 members. The Arkansas increase I find suspicious especially in light of the fact that we as masons are prohibited from soliciting members. We are a geriatric fraternity where young people, under 30, find it difficult to relate to masons 60+. Being the most ancient society in the world doesn’t impress our young people much especially when their lives are wrapped up in smartphones and everything in their world is instant. Young people today are not joiners.

    I read some responses about sloppy dress. I attended a lodge not long ago that was in the country and farmers were wearing bib overalls to meetings. Reason being is that if they had to go home and dress especially after being in the fields farming all day they would stay home. A tractor was parked behind the lodge as the owner was going back into the fields when the meeting was over. It’s ridiculous to get upset over how brothers are dressed. You either want them their or not, make up your mind. The Eastern Star really get wrapped up in dress, again, you either want your members their or not. Imagine how Jesus was dressed as he walked everywhere. His cloths had to be dusty and his feet dirty and there are churches today that wouldn’t let him in because of how he was dressed. Does it really matter? God is concerned about the internal, the heart of the man not the external. We as masons need to start focusing on that which is important and I don’t consider dress as being important.

    Lastly, our geriatric members are so set in their ways that change to them is coins in their pockets. They are not about to enter into any physical change because it’s been done this was for decades and we’re not changing now. Masonry is currently on life support and the sad thing is our leadership is in denial. Leaders in all the appendent bodies refused to except that in 20 years, if that long, masonry may well cease to exist.

    Adapt or die!

  34. These are sound ideas, but don’t address the elephant in the room. Far, far too many of our Brothers, especially in rural parts of our particular state, have managed to forget the Masonic lessons about this fraternity being the Brotherhood of ALL men: black, white, purple, puce, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Sikh, gay, straight, whatEVER. I’d love to say it’s just the Old Guard that experienced segregation firsthand and repeat the old adage that all of this will be fixed after a few more Masonic funerals, but, sadly, that’s not the case. I recently left the Lodge whose stairs I have walked since I was 12 years old – there is not another structure on this planet that has more of my blood, sweat, and tears in it – but I have simply had enough of the black and Muslim jokes and of being forced to stare at the Confederate battle flag thumb tacked up in the East like a Klan dorm room, of all places. It came down to a choice of continuing a legacy that I have fostered my entire life or refusing to sit in a place of ‘enlightenment’ where my friends and family aren’t welcome because of a book they read or the color of their skin. Note that this Lodge has Raised one good man in four years and buried thirty. Do the math and see just how long that Lodge – and many others – will be viable without change.

    It boils down to this: we are a progressive science for a reason. We either put the Civil War to bed, leave the ignorant hypocrisy at the door where it belongs, and both acknowledge and PRACTICE the Masonic concept that all men are on the Level while we embrace the diversity created by the Grand Architect or find ourselves becoming a great piece of history in a dusty book on a shelf. It really is that simple.

  35. Here is my take on it. I’m someone who has been involved with fraternities but never freemasonry. I am very close to dozens of them through my work.

    You guys make it too difficult to join, the whole petitioning process is completely absurd. Like why would I want to crawl over to one of your lodges and beg to join a bunch of old conservative dudes. Only to run the risk of being embarrassed of not getting accepted in. Then I run the risk of being that guy that wasn’t good enough to join the Masons.

    You guys would be much better off doing a ‘Bid’ process like the guys below you in college do. If one of your brothers likes someone as a candidate don’t wait for him to ask you to join but offer him a bid to join. Make it seem like he is privileged to join a great cause. Pre-vote on candidates off personal-brother recommendations then offer the canidate a bid. At which point they can take it, or deny it. If the bid is accepted then start the process.

    You guys are your own demise. If you haven’t noticed we are going to an ‘on-demand’ society. People don’t want to apply for something to have a high chance of denial. Especially since your lodges are highly localized. Then every one in town will be like oh so and so couldn’t join the Mason’s because of this or that.

    Just an idea from someone from the outside looking in.

  36. WITHOUT WOMEN FREE MASONS ARE DEAD!!! How blind can you all be as men? If women joined too along with internet communities and updated courses, and fun volunteer events then you would get a huge surge in membership!!!! You could hold family events and get your kids involved as well. Offer babysitting during services. There are millions of fundraising organizations that you are competing with. Without women, there wont be any new men because everyone is so busy and exhausted and we all need a safe oasis to gather together and feel loved and supported. Yoga classes and meditation are huge million dollar businesses now because we all need stress relief. Its not the 1950 where people worked 9-5 with weekends off and little debt and anyone could get a job and pay tithes to churches. We are in a deep economic and spiritual crisis. Evolve or die!

  37. When I was young, I was affiliated with Daylight Lodge, and no longer. The critical problem is that the old philosophies such as FATAL go upside-down as people question if others are worth helping. In our area, drug activity from the streets infected the lodges and went all the way up into the local Shrine and Scottish Rite temple.

    The real problem is psychiatry. You cannot adapt to the “new” way of thinking where all emotions are controllable with pills. When righteous anger breaks out in a lodge, the individuals who are aggrieved leave, while those who won’t admit to what they have done often remain. The more access to influence the individual has, the more abusive they get. Church congregations are having the same problems as domestic violence, pedophilia, and other things are gripping.

    It isn’t outreach that is the issue. The reality is there are fewer and fewer good men and women – and the empty lodges are the consequences of hiding lies behind FATAL.

  38. As a past master and perpetual member of a successful and progressive lodge that was literally raised from the ashes to be a shining jewel in the crown of Colorado Freemasonry, I’m now engaged in the monumental struggle to resurrect a historical lodge that can best be described as undead. I affiliated on the night when our Grand Orator was present with the Grand Master’s writ to arrest the charter should elections not be properly held on the spot. The District Lecturer stepped up and a small band of six brothers, none of which were raised in this lodge took on the task of rebuilding. We have two standing on the first degree and one more elected to be initiated, a crumbling building, mountains of artifacts and archives from two closed lodges, defunct Star and De Molay and KT chapters and enough junk to bury the most prolific horder and his grandpa’s garage. We spend two nights a week cleaning and organizing and are making some headway. I’ve been cautioned that our chances of initiating our way back to viability are slim to none and yet the pleasure of spiffing up the lodge keeps me happy to be in the fray. When I look at the very long line of Past Masters portraits on the wall, I cannot help but secretly vow to find the missing ten years and place them where they should have been all along. At some point we must perform a post-Mortem on this zombie lodge of ours and determine what exactly lead to its demise. One thing for sure, it wasn’t the solitary act of one lone gunman. There had to have been years of abuse and neglect carried out by a klavern of unwitting conspirators. As the membership slowly shifted away from the town’s civic leaders and fell in among the farmers and mechanics of the region its human resources were less an less able to manage the craft and its property. Times changed and the young movers and shakers of the region were not interested in what they considered to be the stodgy mummery of yesteryear. While the jury is still out on the future of the lodge, I’ll hazard a guess as to its fate. It will survive. A good time will be had by all. Refreshments will be served and noted by the secretary. But it will never have the energy to spare for blowing air into the lungs of the traditional appendant bodies. They will live or die on their own merits. Their fate is solely in the hands of future masons. Craft Masonry will always live in some form but its place in society is up for discussion. Until we agree on a mission greater than our own survival, the best we can hope for is merely survival. I personally favor the quest for light. To me, there is no other reason for affiliation.

  39. Save the republic Masons helped create. It is time to get into the fight. It is time to defend the United States we created.

  40. This is true of any religion or any club that is faced with society constantly progressing. I respect this man in the masons because he is honest about it…whereas most religions are not.

  41. I’m a student working on a semester long research project. I’ve been enjoying the blog posts on Harding File. I am needing more information about your site for my bibliography. Towards credibility statement. Thanks

  42. Accept it. Freemasonry, beautiful moral science that it is, is not socially relevant. The teachings of Masonry cannot compete with the teachings of a Tony Robbins and other personal growth and self development gurus. Personal growth and development as taught my Free Masonry is passe. Everyone wants what they want NOW. Apprenticeship? Give me a break. Masonry, too, has lost its critical mass as a force for change. There are simply not enough Masons around these days to make a difference. Pancake breakfasts just don’t cut it anymore. And, the leadership of Free Masonry hasn’t helped improve the situation. The craft is run by a bunch of unenlightened dumbasses who covet their jewels and impose their rigid authority in ways that are legalistic and bad for the advancement of the craft. No, Masons, kiss your assess good-bye. You’re headed for the dust bin of history.

  43. Interesting article, I left the AASR, Shrine and York Rite for one simple reason… arrogance.
    The members that are 33° and been past master more than once have themselves convinced that they are the embarking knowledge of all that is relevant, to the point of losing the common masonic tenants.
    I had an older brother yell at me because my view wasn’t wanted by him on a project I was working on.
    Since nobody had the courage to correct him on his display of true narcissism I Demitted from all bodies except my blue lodge.
    And the only reason I am still with that lodge is because of my family history in masonry dating back to the 1800’s.
    He is one of many higher up “brothers” that have shown me that they are in the fraternity for one purpose… self worth and ego.
    I am 54 years old, and will not succumb to emotional narcissism abuse.
    It has had absolutely nothing to do with technology or gatherings.
    My son asked for a petition, I personally will not support him having his heart broken like mine.

  44. As a Master Mason, I let my membership expire for these reasons:
    1. Boring meetings with little or no education.
    2. Lack of opportunities to get my family involved, to include my wife.
    3. Concentration on memory work versus improving me as a individual.
    4. Lack of any sense of mystery once I received my MM.

    Solutions:
    1. Start including family events in all planning. This needs to be all the time and not once a once a year picnic. And I am not encouraging them to join other organizations like OES and think that is sufficient.
    2. Change the format of the meetings to concentrate on individual development. Remove business discussions to a separate working group. Add more mystery, esoteric work, and ritual even if the scripts are read or ad lib. Have agendas. Strive to keep the meetings non-routine.
    3. Do not confuse individual development with memory work.
    4. Do not encourage people to work through the ranks so quickly. Change the ritual to allow for multiple people to be raised at the same time. Create commencement ceremonies for an example.
    5. Get the Masons out into the community more. Have floats in parades, booths at fairs, ….

    1. Thoughtful reply Sam. Unfortunately change of this magnitude is not of interest to the craft in my jurisdiction and probably not yours either. I’m afraid the craft will have to “reboot” first, as it has several times in the past. I’m not looking to discard the traditions, knowledge and wisdom of earlier times as this is much value and many benefits to be gained, but modernity will not be ignored and can’t not be avoided. As the title of this post states…Adapt or Die.

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