A few days ago we discussed the membership declines in Freemasonry over 2020. Today we’re going to talk about more practical and specific solutions, and actions Grand Lodges can take to improve the situation.
Let’s picture a lodge as a set of concentric circles, with some members closer to the core. The closer to the center, the more involved & enthusiastic, the outer circles less involved and knowledgeable.
Freemasonry is a type of community, and at the center is the value or promise of that community. With membership in any community, the task is to draw people into the center so they can get the promised value. Freemasons talk about making good men better, leadership, community impact – any of these could suit or other things particular to your lodge.
In many businesses, the “Orbit Model” is used to understand how community participants can be drawn into participation, and what affects their thinking. Masonic lodges typically look at things in terms of the actions they should take (“more charity”, “talk to your friends”) but they do not typically orient their actions around the needs of the people in the outside orbits. So let’s talk about what draws people into communities.
Communities have three key measures about them:
- Love is a member’s engagement in their Masonic Lodge. (e.g. Greek “Philia” or “Agape”) Someone with high love is active and plays key roles in their lodge like organizing degrees, working on committees, and so on. Those are our officers and most highly engaged members. People with high love can inspire others.
- Reach is a measure of a lodge member’s sphere of influence and takes into account their credibility, reputation, and degree of connectedness. That one brother you know who joins everything has high reach – the one who participates in 3 committees outside of lodge does too. They’re networkers. People with high reach attract others to join them in their journey.
- Gravity is the attractive force of a lodge that retains existing members and pulls in new ones. Potential members see the work going into the community, the value it creates for its members, and eventually get curious about whether they should get involved. Freemasons often talk about community visibility, which is related.
Given those measures, you can look at the two diagrams together and see how they create 4 kinds of roles relative to the lodge community:
- Your core officers are advocates for the lodge. They’ll usually be petition signers, and if the lodge does any outreach, they’ll be at the heart of it. They help build gravity. You know these brothers because if they weren’t there it would mean the immediate demise of the lodge.
- Your most active members are contributors to the lodge.
- Inactive members on the rolls, and prospects – are participants (albeit passive). They’re in the orbit of the lodge, but haven’t really been activated.
- Finally, the broader community and NPDs aren’t really even participating, they are observers of the Masonic community.
Understanding how Communities Work
Love begets more love. Gravity begets more gravity. Good communities work as positive feedback loops, or “virtuous cycles”. The more good things happen, the more people are attracted, which permits more good things to happen. Lodge decay and eventual consolidation is the same loop in reverse: less activity means less participation & gravity, driving less activity.
If someone is getting chased by the secretary to pay their dues, what you know is that they’re low love, low gravity, and you don’t really know what their reach its.
Recent activities are more important than those in the past. We likely all know a member who started out enthusiastic after their raising and a year later is never seen. They are victims of that activity decay. Over time, members will slowly make their way from the inner to the outer Orbits unless you do something about it.
How to get Started
First, what’s not working. Many lodges are stuck in a cycle of “try some stuff and see if it works”. This uncoordinated action is frequently not successful, because we don’t really measure the results of our experiments to see what worked and what didn’t over time. Lack of coordination between line officers year over year (in many places) compounds the challenge because even if lessons are learned, they may be lost in subsequent years. Each lodge also may not have many resources: it is as though our efforts are divided in 10 small ponds (lodges) instead of 1 big lake (a Scottish Rite Valley) or ocean (a Grand Lodge, or Scottish Rite jurisdiction)
Measure what you have first. It makes sense to have a written record of how many advocates, contributors, participants, and observers you have. Does your lodge have a contact list of the wider community that has engaged at any point? What about that brother who used to come but hasn’t been seen in a while?
How then do we increase member’s love, and the lodge’s gravity? In a fraternity, we “pay love” in intangible ways of course. Consider how you do or don’t pay your members in love:
- Do you thank them?
- Do you connect them to opportunities? (Someone to help move, recommend a job, etc)
- Do you let them speak?
- Can they bring new ideas?
Get Systematic. Breaking down love, gravity, and reach would be the topic for several later articles. Each aspect can be broken down and questions like these posed. This is a more systematic way of understanding what the challenge is and how to tackle it, in contrast to “try some stuff and see if it works”. A lodge may place the stewards outside the door and greet everyone coming in. A first, basic, good step, but needing coordination with other activities. Does this idea work? It could, in concert with other ideas as well and some sustained effort. A related question is if you’ll even know whether it worked or not. How will you know?
Get the Line Onboard. As with just about any worthy project, this is going to take more than one year, and so no single stellar Worshipful Master is going to get this done. The Worshipful Master should work to build agreement in the officer line so that a multi-year project can be undertaken and executed. Past Masters can contribute from outside the line as well.
One of the curious things about Freemasonry is how decentralized it is, down to the individual lodge level. Overall this gives fairly high levels of local autonomy, but makes it hard to coordinate around common projects at times, at a wider jurisdictional level. Grand Lodges provide (in different states) a range of basic services to subordinate lodges, like membership tracking and some basic reports. When it comes to community engagement, my personal belief is that this has to be taken on by a body at least the size of a decent Scottish Rite Valley, if not a Grand Lodge – on behalf of the related blue lodges. They have the scope, numbers, and possibly resources to do the job, and the job applies to all lodges.
Simple things like measurement and systems (contact lists, keeping track of who is in which orbit) can be done centrally. Replicating different versions of the same membership engagement work in dozens of subordinate lodges (in different ways) may not be feasible.
Improvements have to be undertaken on the lodge level though. Here we reach a basic truism, it’s going to take everybody; this is not a project that can be undertaken by 2-3 motivated brothers in a lodge.