Boring Our Members To Death

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Sep 30, 2010.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

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    The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape. "Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?" Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood. "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me." The Spirit was immovable as ever.

    Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol

    Sit down and chat for about ten minutes with an insurance agent, and let him quote you chapter and verse about the death rate among the World War II generation. Okay, I'll grant you, there's a certain ghoulish aspect to it. I'm bringing it up because, like Scrooge's portentous Spectre, Freemasons have spent the last fifteen years pointing an empty sleeve at the grave, and blaming our declining membership numbers on the four-million Masons who were members during our boom years, who have had the very bad timing to pass on to the Celestial Lodge Above in record waves over the last dozen or so years.

    Once you're sufficiently bored by your insurance guy, give your Grand Secretary a call and ask him how the numbers compare between the death rate of members every year, versus the losses from demits and non-payment of dues. Prepare yourself for a shock. In most jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada, the losses of members from deaths has been statistically tapering off, while the losses due to Freemasons walking away from the fraternity have been rising at an alarming rate. Oh, we're initiating a very healthy dose of new Masons every year all right. But men whom we have initiated, passed and raised are deciding in increasing numbers to say no thanks to what their local lodge offers. Masonic membership rolls are still dropping, but not from natural causes. The truth is, we are boring our members to death.

    It has long been understood that the Baby Boom generation didn't join the Masons. As a result, there is a five-decade difference between the generation of men who kept Freemasonry alive for us and the men who are now moving into leadership positions throughout the fraternity. At any other time in the history of Freemasonry, each succeeding generation came along approximately in twenty-five year intervals, making changes in their lodges, and in Freemasonry as a whole, to reflect their needs and desires. Masonry has always adapted to serve the societies in which it resided. Until recently. Now, instead of a twenty-five year adjustment in direction, Freemasonry is suffering from fifty years of habit and hardening of the arteries.

    Not long ago, I visited a lodge that had fallen on hard times - very hard times indeed. At one time, their rolls held the names of more than 1800 members. Today, they are down to 200. That's not an unusual state of affairs for a fraternity that artificially swelled in size after World War II, but for men who see success and failure only in the narrow terms of numerical statistics, it is an emergency of epic proportions. There were members in that lodge who remember those heady days like they were yesterday. They remember the degree nights with 150 Masons on the sidelines. They remember the dances, and the Christmas parties, and the big group trips. They remember the dinners when the dining hall was packed to the rafters, with their kids running up and down the room, while some successful member from the civic or business world tried to give a speech. They look on those days fondly, and are bewildered by the fact that no more than eight members show up for the average meeting today. They'd had no candidates in four years, and they literally begged their members to come and participate. No one did.

    The men who kept that lodge barely alive tried to do things the way they have been done when most of them joined a half century ago. The same eight men met for a meager meal before their monthly meeting. They opened lodge with perfect ritual. They read the minutes and the bills. There was rarely any business, new or old. They closed and fled the building, and were home by 7:30, before prime-time network programming got started for the night. Over the last five years, the same eight members have been trading officers' positions, and they just got tired. They were fed up. So, they decided to merge with another lodge and be done with it.

    As with any turning point of this magnitude, all 200-plus members had to be notified of the meeting. Only twelve cared enough to show up to vote to euthanize their lodge. They had no fight in them to save their lodge. They wanted to simply slip into the ranks of another, give up their charter and their 140-year history, and vanish from memory. They had killed their own lodge with their own failure to embrace any change, and in fact, many of them were enraged that some brethren from outside of their lodge had come in to try to resurrect them at the eleventh hour and interfere with their plans for a quiet suicide.

    They didn't do anything to appeal to new members. But neither were they serving their existing ones. They weren't broke. These were children of the Depression. They had almost $200,000 in the bank. So why did they do nothing to interest their aging members? Bus trips to Branson. $100 cruises to the Caribbean. Casino boat trips. Tours to Masonic sites in Britain. Trips to the Holy Land. Catered dinners. Sponsored movie nights. Loads of public awards. Medicare drug program presentations. Estate planning seminars. Computers at lodge to send emails to the grand kids. Power-chair races in the halls. In short, give their existing members a reason to keep coming to lodge, to keep enjoying it, to love it.

    Neither did they do anything to attract new members. They rent the lodge room in the big downtown Temple building, so like most tenant/landlord relationships, they figured they didn't have to put a dime into the place if they didn't own it. That's somebody else's job. Really? If only they had tried investing in their lodge. Put in new lighting so members could see three feet in front of them. Upholster the sad looking chairs and benches that have the original leather from World War I on them. Tear up the worn and moldy carpet and replace it - maybe with one of the only black and white checked carpets in the U.S. that we talk about in our ritual but almost nobody seems to have. In short, make it look like something worth coming to. Make it look like something worth joining.

    Then start kicking the members into participating in lodge - not worrying about who was going to be what officer or memorize which part of the ritual. Actually talk about Freemasonry, its history, its symbolism, its philosophy. Actively visit other lodges and help with their degrees. Get members interested in other activities in the building, or volunteering to help some of the community groups that have been meeting there with greater frequency. We talk a big line about charity and helping the community, so let's start giving time, and not just checkbook generosity. And if they still didn't have a full lineup of guys willing to be officers, just sideliners, it wouldn't matter.

    Because, once the place looked like living inhabitants occasionally might be in the place, and that it was actually a vibrant, active lodge, maybe, just maybe, some of their grandkids might get interested in Freemasonry, because they were seeing Freemasonry in action, instead of Freemasonry inaction. The business author James O'Toole says, "People who do not think well of themselves do not act to change their condition." Even a lodge that only has eight regular attendees has within its active ranks the resources to wake itself up, to do things that make them truly happy to be there, and sometimes to even surprise themselves.

    Leadership has no age, and there are no limits on imagination. But a lodge has to mean something to its members. It has to remain part of their lives, every day, every week, every month. Because once it's more fun, or less hassle, to stay squeezed comfortably in the LaZBoy, curled up with a remote control, than it is to go to lodge, we have lost them. No one would ever voluntarily join a memorization club, and no one wants to join the oldest, greatest, most legendary fraternal organization in the world, only to be sentenced to a lifetime of cold cut sandwiches made with suspicious meat, generic cola, and monthly meetings of nothing but minute-reading, bill-paying and petulant sniveling over why no one comes to meetings anymore. Be honest with yourself. What rational human being seriously wants to go to the trouble of leaving home to go and listen to someone spend twenty minutes reporting that nothing happened at last month's meeting either?

    It will be the lodges that provide programming for their active members - whatever their age may be - that will survive and prosper into the future. But those that stubbornly cling to the notion that lodge is no event, that lodge is just one more meeting to be borne, that lodge is that most terrible of things, Ordinary - those are the lodges that will literally bore themselves to death. Those are the lodges that will slip silently away in the night. And the shadows of things that Might Be will have faded into the concrete Reality of a deserted lodge room.

    "Ghost of the Future!" Scrooge exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear your company, and do it with a thankful heart."

    - Source: Bro. Christopher Hodapp
    Author of Freemasons for Dummies
     
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  2. Bill Lins

    Bill Lins Moderating Staff Staff Member

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    "many of them were enraged that some brethren from outside of their lodge had come in to try to resurrect them at the eleventh hour and interfere with their plans for a quiet suicide."

    It's funny- I've seen that happen in two different Lodges. I guess it's better not to bother & just let them demise.
     
  3. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

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  4. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    There's been a Masonic Discussion group of this sort meeting every other month in the Chicago area for over 10 years. Interest waxes and wanes. They've done everything from surveying new Masons to recommend direction to GL to discuss insurance.

    Folks who come for the fellowship aren't there to be excited. We're there to be with the brethren.
     
  5. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    What it tells me - It's why lodges have a core of members who keep coming back. These are the men who have a higher than average need for the fellowship. I have a desk job working mostly on-line with little face to face human interaction. For me the fellowship is enough that I keep going for the fellowship. The rest, for me, is fluff. I put in extra effort on the rest because I like it, but I don't have to. Not that this helps restore a lodge as you say. I figure it explains why lodges are slow to die.

    Lodges that have absorbed other lodges supply examples. Lodges that are so busy they have to do a constant stream of multiple candidate degrees supply examples.

    Pasadena 272 California has a monthly family social dinner that has been going on for decades. There's everything from a talk about lodge history through an annual swing band performance. There are annual events in addition to this in several months. There are try-it-once social events several times per year. There is an active degree team that goes around delivering degrees for struggling lodges or even for healthy lodges for the fun of it. There are several brothers who go to GL every year for the social aspects. The building is so nice it gets rented out at a positive cash flow - From weddings through TV shows. The monthly family dinner plus the nice building makes it very easy to attract candidates. The traveling degree team has triggered more than one request for consolidation while I've been a member.

    Lombard 1098 Illinois where I'm an honorary member (nearest Texas equivalent is "life member") has at least one social event every month and has deliberately targeted young men for membership. Plus there are social events among members in addition. Plus there is an education talk at each stated meeting or sometimes a Masonic trivia game with small prizes handed out. A brother is brought forward often for peer recognition to thank him for service to the lodge - Praise is one of the best forms of Master Mason wages. Lombard is so busy we typically have 2 or 3 candidates at our monthly degree night. There's a waiting list for raising and the line.

    Barrington 522 Illinois has a similar game plan to Lombard and shows similar results.

    What I see in common are getting new brothers active by assigning them a project as soon as they deliver their proficiencies. Keep the older guys active by making sure they are active working on at least one annual event. Keep the ritual guys active by having a degree team and trading degrees with other lodges in the district. Passing around Masonic Education talks so I'm not the only one doing the presentation every month. Going for a brew or coffee after meetings. Including the wives in every social event.

    A similar list of features can be written for lodges that fail. Arlington Heights 1162 could no longer maintain our building so we sold it and became a tenant in the building owned by Barrington 522. We lost our ability to recruit in our home territory because we left town to go to meetings. it took several years but we asked to be absorbed by Barrington 522.
     
  6. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

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    This pretty much sums it up.
     
  7. Bloke

    Bloke Premium Member

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    On the other hand, there is no such thing as a bad sandwich in good company... :)
     
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  8. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

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    After the sandwiches my job served us at in-service earlier this week, I'm inclined to disagree with you. ;)
     
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  9. Bloke

    Bloke Premium Member

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    LOL. Okay, I take it back. I've eaten some which I was concerned might kill me... but not at lodge :)
     
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  10. CLewey44

    CLewey44 Registered User

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    "Then start kicking the members into participating in lodge - not worrying about who was going to be what officer or memorize which part of the ritual. Actually talk about Freemasonry, its history, its symbolism, its philosophy. Actively visit other lodges and help with their degrees. Get members interested in other activities in the building, or volunteering to help some of the community groups that have been meeting there with greater frequency. We talk a big line about charity and helping the community, so let's start giving time, and not just checkbook generosity. And if they still didn't have a full lineup of guys willing to be officers, just sideliners, it wouldn't matter."

    This is a big one for me...not just the vote to pay bills and close stuff. That'd be solved if the above mentioned were maybe fixed. It's easy for me to sit here on a computer and say this and another to do something about it but where do you begin? I know when speculative Masonry started, it was more formal for sure. As it was even in the depression but people showed up in their Sunday best. I don't like seeing people in T-shirts and shorts or even worst, candidates that show up like that for initiation either because they don't care or because nobody told them. I wore a suit when I was raised and I do for all degree work at least. It's not to try to look more important than I am but I do that out of respect for the institution and I think more people should do that.

    I want that reflection chamber and things like that. I don't understand why we tend to ignore the darker side of Masonry to make us feel better. The skull and cross bones for example. Or the reading of prayers from other religions is something that some lodges do. I know the T.O. lodges do that but the closest one to me is nearly an hour away. We do a reading from our Constitution and maybe an article but that's it sometimes.
     
  11. Bloke

    Bloke Premium Member

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    Not sure it is the "darker" side of freemasonry but rather the deeper and more reflective and introspective. Acknowledging your own mortality and the opportunities and obligations that puts on you is often too hard for people.... but it can also be motivating.... we have a PM here who always talks about the number of days he has left until the end of the average lifespan.. and how he can use those days and why we should not waste them.

    We have several members who travel over an hour to both lodges I am in. Once travels 3 hours.... and he recently got up and made a speech - the theme, he'd had a great night and in being there he understood yet again why he travels 3 hours to lodge.. 1 hour does not sound too bad travel time - It takes me about that long to get to lodge..
     
  12. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

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    Boring the members to death:

    I was trained as an economist and remember reading long ago: if an economist finds the work boring then s/he is not doing it properly.

    And that statement is true. There is always a deeper level to be considered.

    So when the brethren are bored, why is that? Are they not applying themselves properly to Masonry? Do they come for entertainment?

    Even the opening of the lodge can be profound, but who attends to it sufficiently?

    I recall reading a significant authority who said something like: It is perhaps just as well that Masons do not operate their ritual effectively.

    Perhaps the bored brethren have chosen the blue pill. It may well be a proper choice.
     
  13. CLewey44

    CLewey44 Registered User

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    For sure it is reflective and introspective but it is often viewed as darker parts of life and Freemasonry but that doesn't mean negative necessarily. But the symbolism isn't mentioned much. Not just the deeper/darker things but just in general, I like to hear from the older MMs that have been in much longer. I plan to travel there this month if given the chance and check out the T.O.
     
  14. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

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    Absolutely!
     

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