MASONIC GROWTH A Seminar Presented to The Phylaxis Society on March 22, 2002

Discussion in 'Prince Hall History and Research' started by Raymond Walters, Jan 18, 2013.

  1. Raymond Walters

    Raymond Walters Premium Member


    In the essay that follows, I make the point that the essential work of a Grand Lodge is to encourage men to congregate as Masons, and the essential work of a lodge is to take good men and make them better. From these simple acts proceed all the good works that Masons do.

    The articles in the Masonic Growth Series are presented in reverse order of their original publication. This, the first article, "Masonic Growth," represesnts my most recent thoughts. Please understand, when I advocate making Masons I am not endorsing "degree mills."


    A year or so ago the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine considered changing its membership rules to allow non-Masons to become Shriners. This proposal originated in response to a protracted and sustained decline in Shrine membership.

    I offer this as an example of the extreme tactics being considered to combat declining membership, which is reaching epidemic proportions in some Masonic bodies. Grand Lodges are not exempt from the problem, neither on the Prince Hall side nor on the mainstream side, and I am certain that a few extreme ideas have been put before the leadership of many Masonic bodies to counter the membership losses that cut more deeply each year into the resources available to support various charitable and administrative programs.

    I have made other presentations to the Phylaxis Society that touch upon topics of Masonic growth and decline. On March 5, 1994, at the annual session of the Phylaxis Society, I did a seminar titled "The Intimate Lodge: An argument in favor of Small Lodges." Another article was published in the Phylaxis Magazine, Vol. No. XXII, No. 3, Third Quarter, 1996, titled "Masonic Survival." I received very little feedback on those presentations, maybe because

    I failed to strike a chord. So I thought I would take one more stab at it from a different approach. The Order of Freemasonry has a serious problem that needs to be addressed, so once again, let's explore the topic of Masonic Growth.

    The Lodge as an Organism

    Before I present my theory about Masonic growth and Masonic decline, I want to give you an analogy. I want you to think about lodges as being natural organisms—physical entities that have a life cycle: a cycle of birth, growth, decline, and ultimately death. If Masonic lodges are allowed to evolve and grow naturally, they will come and they will go just as other organisms do.

    One lodge might have the longevity of a giant redwood tree that survives for centuries, while another might have the more limited life span of us mortals—fifty to a hundred years. Following this analogy, it would be natural over the life span of a lodge to see its birth, a period of growth, a period of maturity, and perhaps a period of decline that can lead to dissolution.

    The cycle may take ten years or it may take a thousand, but nothing that derives from man is destined to endure forever. We may want our Masonic Lodges to go on without end, but it should not surprise us when a lodge comes to its demise. Like the rest of us mortals, when a lodge reaches the end of its usefulness, it will go into decline and may eventually be forced to surrender its charter.

    Finding the Proper Focus

    The first point I want to make from this life-cycle analogy is this: growth and decline are parts of a life cycle, but they are different parts of the cycle and they are not necessarily different sides of the same coin. The reason this distinction is important is that the issues associated with growth in a Masonic lodge are different from the issues associated with decline and dissolution.

    Continuing with the analogy, when we deal with decline and death, we take on the role of doctors and morticians. When we deal with birth and growth, we take on the role of parents and teachers. If you can appreciate the distinction, you can understand the most important point I want to make today.

    That point is this: we cannot understand the mechanisms of growth by focusing on the factors associated with decline. If you want to sustain the growth of your family tree, you don't commit all your resources to keeping your parents and grandparents alive. As much as you may love them, the long-term growth of your family will not be served if your only plan for perpetuating your family is keeping the old-timers on life support.

    Make the ailing elders comfortable in their declining years, but to carry on the family name, you have to encourage the proliferation of offspring. The Biblical principle is this: Be fruitful and multiply! Following the logic of this analogy, I propose to you that the best environment for Masonic growth is one that encourages the proliferation of lodges.

    Growth in Alabama

    I once did a comparison between my home jurisdiction of California and the jurisdiction of Alabama.

    The State of California has three times the land area of the State of Alabama. In 1997 California had twice as many Black men of Masonic age as Alabama did. But the California jurisdiction had 87 lodges compared to 593 in the jurisdiction of Alabama. That's almost seven to one in favor of Alabama. And California had 5,650 Masons compared with 30,822 in Alabama.

    These numbers may not tell the full story, but with almost six hundred lodges on the books, it seems to indicate that Alabama, the most successful jurisdiction in the Prince Hall family, is ready and willing to issue new charters. And it suggests to me that my earlier statement might have merit: the renewal of the cycle of life may be the answer to the problem of Masonic decline.

    Growth in London

    Another example of a proliferation of lodges can be found in the City of London, which in 1995 had almost three times the number of lodges that Alabama had in 1997. Think about that! London is just one city, and it had three times as many lodges as the largest Jurisdiction in the Prince Hall solidarity. This tells me that Masonry is practiced in London a lot differently from the way it is practiced anywhere else; from appearances, it is practiced on a community level.

    It seems to me that for every church in the City of London, there is an associated Masonic lodge. For every pub, there must a lodge within a block of it. Based on the average size of lodges in the United Grand Lodge of England, there may be as many as 60,000 Freemasons in the City of London alone. An astounding number! I have heard it said that every young man in Alabama knows about the local Masonic lodge before he finishes high school. I would think that in London, no young boy enters grade school without learning about the community lodge near his home.

    Masonic Growth

    My theory is that the only way that a Masonic jurisdiction can sustain long-term growth in membership is by forming new lodges. Please understand, I'm not saying that this is one of many programs a Grand Lodge can institute to increase membership. I'm saying that this is the only program that can be implemented at Grand Lodge level to increase membership within its jurisdiction. Now I will try to support this bold assertion.

    Growth Mode

    Something magical happens when a new lodge comes into being, and the size of the lodge is a key element in the transformation that takes place when brothers first congregate as a lodge. Young lodges generally start out with low membership, and because of this, they tend to enter into a growth mode.

    By this I mean that they enter a mode in which growth is a constant motivator. And they don't solve their membership problems by recruiting. I have seen these lodges operate, and recruiting is strictly out of the question. But these lodges operate in such a way that they attract members. Their enthusiasm about the Order shows in everything they do, and the spark in them sets a fire in the hearts of their friends. The youthfulness and inexperience of their members do not hamper them, because the experienced brothers take the younger brothers under their wings and will not let them fail.

    I have seen lodges in the growth mode where it was their battle cry: I will not let my lodge fail! I have seen this same enthusiasm in established lodges also, and these are the lodges that flourish.

    The Need to Split

    After a lodge completes a period of sustained growth, it might become sluggish, restless, and indecisive. I have seen two things happen in such lodges. In one case, the treatment is similar to the treatment for obesity where the lodge just seems fat and in need of a diet. In this sluggish state, various dubious programs are allowed to be implemented, even some that drive members away. The second approach considers that maybe the fat lady is not overweight but needs to give birth.

    Consider a situation that occurs from time to time when so-called cliques form in a lodge. This can happen when the elected leaders in a lodge cannot maintain close and intimate relations with the general membership because there are just too many members for them to stay in touch with.

    Smaller social groups arise within the lodge and these groups tend to take on the personality of its constituent members with aspirations and dreams that may differ from those of the lodge leadership. Trying to coerce these splinter groups into conformity will not work; coercion is like the first treatment and it will more likely drive members away.

    A better solution would be to encourage the splinter groups to congregate as independent lodges so that each group can bring to fruition the dreams and aspirations they have formed for themselves. Otherwise, these groups will be thorns in the side of the lodge's leadership, and no proposal brought before the lodge from either camp will succeed without bickering and dissension.

    The Advantages of a Split

    A split born in this manner will bring psychological forces into play that can potentially revitalize both lodges. The new lodge will be motivated to increase its membership in order to survive and will likely enter into a growth mode.

    The old lodge will need to call upon its inactive members and press them into service, thus increasing the level of participation from all remaining members.

    Rarely will a brother refuse the lodge in situations like this when he knows that his inactivity can lead to the failure of vital lodge programs. So both lodges have an excellent chance to succeed. The old lodge can regenerate itself by simply using the resources at hand. The new lodge will solve its membership problem by inspiring new members of like disposition to come into the fold.

    Grand Lodge Growth Management

    I have gone out on a limb and asserted that the formation of new lodges is necessary to Masonic growth.

    Now, I will go further out and suggest that not only is it necessary, but it is sufficient. When I say it is sufficient I'm saying that the ONLY thing a Grand Lodge needs do to foster a resurgence of growth within its jurisdiction is to charter new lodges—that and, of course, be a loving, nurturing parent.

    If a grand lodge did nothing else, if it never gave a scholarship, if it never owned a building, if it never held a workshop, Masonry would survive and prosper provided the Grand Lodge did one thing: charter new lodges. If growth is their priority, issuing dispensations will have to be their focus. Charity will then flow in a cascade as Grand Lodges make lodges, lodges make Masons, and Masons dispense charity.

    The Grand Lodge takes the role of the Queen Bee; the lodge becomes the beehive, and the brothers become … well they either become workers or drones, we cannot always tell. But the workers will carry on the work of the hive, and the drones, those useless members, will fade into the shadows where they belong.

    Grand Lodges that are in decline should do a simple test. Look at your membership history during the early years of your formation. You will likely see a pattern of growth in both the number of lodges and in the number of Masons. Next, look at the period during which your decline in membership began and try to determine whether there was a decline in dispensations preceding it. If there was, there is your answer.

    It's Only a Theory

    This is only a theory, a theory that I cannot test for myself. I am not a Grand Master and I cannot issue dispensations to form new lodges. So someone out there who has that power may want to conduct the test.

    And if you are disinclined, ask yourself this: What harm comes out of dispensating new lodges? If a UD lodge goes defunct, the worst we can say about it is that for a year or so, seven brothers became practicing Masons.

    What About Lodges in Decline

    A more serious concern involves some of the older, historic lodges that are being sustained in their old age by artificial means. We cherish our history, so when Lodges number 1, 2, and 3 get weak, we don't want to lose them.

    Just as people are sustained by blood transfusions, intravenous feeding, and artificial lungs, some lodges are sustained by mergers, special dispensations, and other artificial means. But, to the extent that it can become hopeless to sustain a dying man, it can become hopeless to artificially sustain a dying lodge.

    So what do we do about a lodge that is in decline and on the verge of dying? The answer is simple. Give them that opportunity. If their time has come, let them die. Let them go. Let them die with dignity. Let them die in peace. But LET THEM GO.

    If you think this is a heartless position, think again. It does not diminish the Order nor does it diminish our history when we lose a lodge; it diminishes the Order when we lose MASONS.

    When a lodge surrenders its charter that act can only diminish the Order of Freemasonry if the brothers associated with that lodge leave the Order completely. And those who leave were probably not doing the Order any good to begin with.

    The members who stay in the order can then go on and become counselors to assists those new lodges that are still in the growth mode.

    But there's another magical effect that lodges in a growth mode have: their enthusiasm becomes contagious.

    If a lodge in growth mode is put next to one in decline, it is far more likely that the older lodge will be infected with a spirit of growth than that the new lodge will be infected with the bitterness of decline.

    There is something about a growing, prosperous lodge that inspires Masons of all ages and that moves them to climb to greater heights.

    The Death of a Lodge

    Lodges go into decline and they die for a reason, and in some cases it may not be entirely bad that they do. It may in fact be beneficial to the Order that a declining lodge surrender its charter if the lodge is using a weak model upon which to base its operation, if it is using the kind of model and operating in a fashion that we do not want to encourage.

    If the members of a lodge have not been able to replace themselves over the years of the lodge's operation and their membership is declining toward extinction, their mode of operation may not be one that needs to be seen or replicated in other lodges. Please do not take offense, but if your lodge has made fewer Masons than you have lost to the Grim Reaper, then think twice before putting your lodge up as a model for emulation.

    Making Masons

    Before I end, I want to restate the principle of the cascade: Grand Lodges make lodges, lodges make Masons, and Masons dispense charity. With regard to the second tier in the cascade, an error in thinking is that making a Mason ends with the degree team.

    To my understanding, the making of a Mason is a long-term project that extends far past the Master Mason's degree in a continuing process. Many good men are lost to the Order because we did not finish making them Masons.

    Many of you reading this are Masons in the best sense. You know the symbolism of being a Living Stone in a house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens. If you are typical, this special understanding came with a revelation that brought all the loose ends together to form a perfect and complete philosophical whole.

    Once this Masonic revelation comes, a Mason begins an irreversible course that brings him closer and closer to the light, inspired by the wonders of creation. This is the inspiration that compels us to take on the role of parents and teachers and that compels us to want to make men Masons of the kind we try ourselves to be.

    So when I talk about making Masons, I mean not merely giving a man the degrees but giving him the knowledge he needs in order to come to that level of inspiration and revelation that puts him on the same irreversible course we have taken.

    When lodges have it within their power to create Masons of this caliber, then I say that is all a lodge has to do. To reach the third level of the cascade, it is necessary that a Lodge makes Masons of the highest caliber, and when they do, I say again, they need do nothing more.

    For the survival of the Order, making Mason is necessary and it is sufficient.

    Remember what I said earlier about the idea of sufficiency. That means that if the lodge did nothing except make Masons, real Masons, it would suffice and it would guarantee the survival of the Order. Okay, what about the charity program, you ask. A lodge has to have a charity program. Not really. A lodge needs to make masons. Mason dispenses charity.

    What about community involvement? Lodges make Masons and Masons involve themselves in the community. If the lodge makes Masons and nurtures them correctly, those Masons will take care of everything else.

    The converse is equally true: If a lodge fails to make Masons who are worthy of the title, then no matter what else it might do, its programs will fail.

    Let me say it again: if the Master of a lodge focuses on making Masons of the caliber we have spoken about, and if he does nothing else, he will have done enough.


    In conclusion, I want to offer up my premise in slightly different words because it bears repeating.

    A lodge that does not make Masons will fail. A Grand Lodge that does not charter new lodges will not grow.

    If a Grand Lodge focuses on chartering new lodges, those lodges will focus on making Masons, and those Masons will do the good that we have come to associate with the Order of Free and Accepted Masons.

    When you put real Masons on the streets and out into the community, everything else will fall into place.

    I suspect that this is the way it was done in ancient times, while today we focus on matters that distract us from the greatest work we can do for our community and for the world at large—and our greatest work is accepting good men from the community and making them better.

    And I say it once again: that's all we need to do.
  2. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

    I wrote this before noticing what part of the forum this thread was started under. I'm not affiliated with PHA nor the Phylaxis Society so everything I wrote is from a blue lodge perspective. I hope nobody minds...I figure we're all brothers here.

    So, if I understand correctly, this paper is proposing that it's the duty of each GL to charter new lodges and it's not too much unlike the duty of local lodges to create new members. I'll have to dwell on this a while, I'm unsure how I feel about it.

    I know several brothers who feel as though there are already too many lodges in our (rural) area. I've even had EA's and FC's ask me why nearby lodges on the brink of demise don't simply join together.

    I've also seen masons become inactive in masonry due to 'clicks' within the lodge.

    It's always seemed strange to me that GL wants you to have something like 50 members to charter a new lodge, not only is that a lot of people but I think smaller, more intimate lodges are better. It's also seemed odd that it's been stated in the past that GMs have no intention of reviving any lodges during their term.

    I guess I wouldn't mind seeing an experiment for a few years to test the theory...the main problem I foresee however is quality vs. quantity and how well GL can judge.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2013
  3. Raymond Walters

    Raymond Walters Premium Member


    This paper is written from the perspective of a Prince Hall Freemason and relates primarily to Prince Hall lodges, which on the whole are typically smaller, especially in a rural area. I understood that the theory could be possible in any Masonic jurisdiction. Something is missing and we must endeavor to determine what it is. It is my opinion that we have lost the closeness of fraternity that is created in a smaller lodge setting, where the members actually know each other.

    The truth is that in many Prince Hall jurisdictions there are considerably less lodges [in most jurisdictions] than a mainstream grand lodge would have. PHA operates with a smaller pool of qualified potential members and standards of conduct are more stringent compared to when I held membership in a mainstream GL. Not better or worse, just different!

    Requirements to charter a new lodge are different than in mainstream jurisdictions, and smaller lodges ranging from 20- 50 members is still not unusual in some Prince Hall jurisdictions.

    The advantage I have seen myself is that in a smaller lodge, the members realize the importance of contributing & are drawn to be an active part of the lodge and it's work... Ritualistic and community.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2013
  4. bryant atwater

    bryant atwater Registered User

    Hi brothers. Just touchn bases, as well to getting to know my brothers!" Im here in Stockton, ca

    Freemason Connect Mobile

    Attached Files:

  5. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

    I've never understood why this is not considered natural in the US. Lodges do degrees, fellowship and service events to make Masons. A lodge consists of Masons with any property just being stuff that can be replaces. Grand lodges dispensation, annual communication and education programs to make Lodges. A grand lodge consists of through their representatives WM, SM, JW. All other members of GL are fluff that distracts from that.

    Around a century ago in the US Gls switched to focusing on large lodges. The result was large buildings because larger lodges have more budget. And sure enough few of those buildings remain in the order because lodges have tended to move towards a more natural size. My brothers, that was a mere century ago. It was a social experiment and it didn't work. Only a century of history was lost and only in one country. It just happens to be the century we ere born and and the country we were born in.

    A merged lodge is both a new lodge and a lodge allowed to die. I've been on the absorbing and absorbed sides over the years. Chose well and the result is a far better lodge than the combination of the parts. Chose poorly and the result is one dying lodge where there used to be two.

    Chartering new lodges does not need to be done where there are plenty of lodges. It needs to be done where there are either lodges or a surplus of Masons.

    The article covers this issue. I can say that after absorbing a lodge I listened to the elderly members who had been around when a previous lodge had hived to form a new one and who had also been around to see that hiving reverse into a merger.

    I've seen the number as 20 or 25 in other jurisdictions. I've seen a GM issue a charter at GL. He'd figured it out and he was more impressed than most of the brothers in attendance. But I've been to more than 10 GL sessions and only seen 1 charter issued. Sigh.

    or you can look to PHA Alabama and most of the rest of the world to see how the approach works. Compared to most of the US for how the current approach works. That data is there for the noticing!
  6. AndreAshlar

    AndreAshlar Registered User

    This piece may hurt some feelings but it is profound and right on point. Thanks for sharing!
  7. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    Does the species known as Masonic Lodges evolve?
  8. Bloke

    Bloke Premium Member

    You call your lodge "Evolution" (931 UGLV) and you try new things :)
  9. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    Lots of interesting info brother. Thanks for sharing.

Share My Freemasonry