It’s well known that many Masonic lodges lose a lot of new members within a year or so after they petition for membership.
What if I told you that there was a way that a lodge could reduce how many new members that it loses?
It’s also not a secret. In fact, there are numerous lodges that have already adopted the practice that I’m about to share.
You Can’t Fix Something If You Don’t Know What’s Wrong!
It’s well known that membership numbers for Freemasonry are in decline across North America, so it’s important that we do what we can on our end to retain as many new members as we can.
Before we jump into what works, it’s important to look at the practices that aren’t working.
Currently, when a man expresses interest in joining the fraternity the general timeline for giving him a petition, investigating him, and conferring his degrees is…as soon as possible. We often get excited at the prospect of a new member and we want to get him into the fraternity as quickly as we can before he changes his mind or loses interest.
The investigation is treated as a formality and often not taken very seriously.
At some point early on we’ll also tell him about our (cheap) degree fees with an apologetic tone as though we wish we could hand out our degrees for free.
What often happens is that at some point the new member decides that Freemasonry is too much work, he doesn’t feel like he fits in, or that the organization is nothing like he was led to believe it would be (this happened to me).
Furthermore, it’s easy for him to walk away from the fraternity at that point. He’s put very little time, money, or energy into the organization so it’s not as though he has anything to lose by simply giving up when he loses interest.
Apply the same practices to the next petitioner and hope that he sticks around.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
At this point, it feels natural to make a reference to Albert Einstein’s quote about insanity. We’ve probably all heard it numerous times by now and there’s some debate if he actually said it but that doesn’t make it less applicable here…
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The practices that I just detailed all fall into what I call the Quantity over Quality approach to new members. Basically, it’s when a lodge will allow anyone to join that’s qualified and hope that they’ll stick around. If you want to learn more then I encourage you to check out the link above.
The short and sweet of Quantity over Quality is that it has three traits: it’s fast, easy, and cheap.
How many things do you value in your life that came fast, easy, and cheap?
On the other hand, how many things do you value in your life that came slowly, was difficult, and didn’t come cheap?
This brings us to the topic in question: how to retain more new members?
Fixing What Is Broken…
If the practices in the last section focus on being fast, easy, and cheap and we’ve determined that this is ineffective, what if we took the opposite approach? Let’s look at the practices already mentioned and see how they would change.
1. Instead of giving a man a petition as soon as he expresses interest and then bringing the petition before the lodge as soon as possible, take your time with this step of the process.
Once a man shows interest in the fraternity, invite him to visit the lodge whenever possible and make it known to him that it can take several months before he will be voted on. This accomplishes several things:
- He will have invested time into the fraternity.
- This gives him opportunities to build relationships with the brothers.
- This gives him time to decide if Freemasonry, or this lodge, in particular, is right for him.
- Likewise, it also gives members of the lodge time to decide if Freemasonry or this lodge, in particular, is right for him.
- By the time he is voted on, he should be fully aware of what will be expected of him.
- Finally, if he stops showing up then you know that you wouldn’t have retained him anyhow.
As for the question of how long this period should be, there is no single answer. If a petitioner is well known and well-liked then he might be asked to wait two or three months. On the other hand, if a stranger petitions that some brothers have concerns about then he might have to wait six months or longer until everyone is satisfied or he is told that Freemasonry, or the lodge, just isn’t right for him.
2. Take the investigation process more seriously. I wrote an entire post about this here and, while it wasn’t well-received by everyone, I’m not suggesting that you have to adopt the practices I discuss as though it’s all or nothing. It’s simply a list of guidelines and ideas, treat it as such.
3. Re-evaluate your degree fees. Too often, these fees are set arbitrarily and haven’t been given much thought in years. I’m not suggesting that you increase your fees for the sake of being more expensive but you should break down the cost for each degree and the lodge definitely should not lose money when it confers one.
There is no set formula for this. It could be as simple as figuring out the cost of a Holy Bible and apron and being sure those are considered or it could be as complicated as taking into account the cost for running electricity during the degree and the preceding practices as well as the dinner.
It’s ultimately up to the lodge.
As a side note, I would suggest considering presenting small ‘bonuses’ at the end of each degree: working tools, other things mentioned during the lecture, or even a Master Mason’s certificate could be framed and presented to the brother. If you do this, be sure to include the cost in the degree fee as well.
The bottom line is that nobody approaches Freemasonry expecting it to be cheap so there’s no need to be apologetic when discussing fees. People find time and money to do things that are important to them and are far more reluctant to walk away from bigger investments that they’ve put into themselves.
Last, but not least: don’t rush the brother through his degree work. It’s there for a reason and if his mentor is not encouraging him to reflect upon and internalize the lessons that he learns from his degrees and catechisms then he’s just memorizing words and that won’t make him any better of a man than he was when he first turned in his petition.
It’s more difficult this way but it gives the brother an accomplishment that he can be proud of when he turns in his work.
In closing, we took a look at the fast, cheap, and easy Quantity over Quality approach that far too many lodges have adopted and determined why this is ultimately ineffective at retaining new members.
Instead, we took these same practices and used the opposite approach to see what that would actually like like in our lodges and how it would help us to accomplish our goals of keeping new brothers active and engaged in the lodge.
These practices are not speculation at this point. There are many lodges that are doing these exact things with very promising results. This means that at some point they realized the same thing that I pointed out earlier in this post: the old practices just aren’t working and something had to be done to fix things.
My question to each of you is this: how much evidence do you need to start adopting healthier practices in your lodge?