Membership: A Few Good Men

By David H. Fryday

Grand Master of Oregon

During travels around the Oregon Jurisdiction and other jurisdictions, one theme seemed to stand out: Membership. This message is echoed in both the Appendant and Concordant bodies on a local and national level. Nearly everywhere we visit, the number of Brothers and
Sisters are declining, albeit more slowly than in previous years, but slipping nevertheless. Because of these quantitative shifts, Shrine and Scottish Rite are more aggressively reaching out to the Blue Lodges, because we are their only source of new members. Other
Appendant and Concordant bodies are doing the same.

To keep the Masonic Family healthy, Masons need to step up to the plate and address the membership issue. For the last decade or two, membership issues have been addressed by constituent Lodges and the Grand Lodge. Near a decade ago, I remember M.W.B. Erin Endicott
admonishing the Brothers to "Talk to one good man a month." A simple but obvious solution and the first step in our rebuilding process.

When we look at the culture and society today, the only thing we can really count on is change. It is all around us. When my father was a boy in northern Canada, he plowed the fields with a horse. Today, that activity is something most of us have never seen except in
a movie or on a newscast featuring a third world country. Similarly, when I was a boy in rural Nebraska, telephones were on the wall in the kitchen and service was only available after cranking the phone and talking on a party line. Flash forward to today, nearly
everyone has a cell phone in their pocket, and a pretty smart phone at that. Technologically, we have come a long way.

But in the Masonic world, change has come more slowly. Although we have graduated from drawing our Trestleboards on papyrus, we need to embrace the advances of the 21st century.

Business, family and friends now communicate effectively using digital technology. Voice communications will never go away, but email, texting and Skype are replacing a significant portion of phone conversations, letters, and face-to-face meetings.

During the last couple of centuries, when towns were small and most of us knew everyone, our process of informing good men of the attributes of Masonry was simpler—by example and word-of-mouth. Then, the advantages of being a Mason were apparent and membership made a
difference in men’s' lives. By joining the different bodies of the Masonic family one could develop an all-encompassing social life. Today, however, the pace of life has increased dramatically. Employees are many times expected to work in excess of 40 hours, or they
need to hold down more than one job to make ends meet. Time conflicts with other social activities like attending your children's sporting or school events, and distractions such as television or Internet are all begging for our time.

How do we break through this barrier of conflicting responsibilities and disruption? We need to offer resolution to the taxing requirements of good men who are not Brothers and provide the education, activities, and camaraderie which can give them and their families
a respite from the vicissitudes of life. How do we reach out to potential candidates, and their families, to let them know what Masonry can offer? We need to talk to good men, improve the quality of our Lodges, and advance the identity of Masonry and the Masonic
Family.

General George S. Patton is quoted as saying, "l don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom." I believe that this is also true for organizations. We should not necessarily measure our successes by where we are
today, but rather where we will be tomorrow. Our decline in numbers is unfortunate, but also can be viewed as a wake-up call (one we have been receiving for a while). Patton also said "A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied
10 minutes later." For Masons, Masonry and the Masonic Family, the time to act is now.

In order to identify the steps we need to take to "grow" our membership we should look at examples of other organizations that have made a turnaround. Ideally we could look at other fraternities or service clubs for examples, but most of these organizations are
struggling with the same issues today.

Jim Collins taught in Good to Great that each organization needs to "get the right people on the bus." In other words, one would rather be in a small company that has the right people running it, rather than in a mega-company whose management is moribund. In an
article in Fast Company he stated, "In each of these dramatic, remarkable, good-to-great corporate transformations, we found the same thing: There was no miracle moment. Instead, a down-to-earth, pragmatic, committed-to-excellence process—a framework—kept each
company, its leaders, and its people on track for the long haul." As Masons, we need to fine-tune our framework—make it work for what we want to accomplish. This does not indicate that we need to alter our principles, traditions or rituals which are time tested.

We must, however, reexamine our structural composition. Regarding this process, Collins stated "We keep looking for change in the wrong places, asking the wrong questions, and making the wrong assumptions.... The data doesn't lie." In our case, membership figures do
not lie. Although we do not want to dilute the standards or quality of our ranks, we must not ignore the statistics which are before us.

We have experienced a paradigm shift in our culture, society, and world. It is easy to say that our membership has declined because the world is going down the drain. I do not believe that this is the case, because I am certain there are millions of good people in
this country who are seeking association with an organization of honest, hardworking, spiritual, compassionate, generous and like-minded individuals, who would join us in our quest. The question is how can they find us if we cannot ask them to join?

First of all, we cannot expect different results if we continue to do the exact same thing we have done year after year, sincerely believe that Masons need to do three things to change this dynamic. First we need to get the most qualified leaders in chairs of our
Lodges and the Grand Lodge line. Second, we need to reach out to the Appendant and Concordant bodies and coordinate our efforts to reach out to all good men and their families, letting them know what we do and what we stand for. Finally, we need to provide continuing
education for our members and Lodge officers on Masonic ritual and procedures, principles, and leadership.

There is absolutely no reason we cannot increase membership. If not this year, we can at least increase membership in the next couple of years. We have the basic structure in place.

Let me close with a Patton quote, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

[Excerpted from Oregon Masonic News, October 2013, Grand Lodge of Oregon]

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