- the membership challenge in Freemasonry today
- an overall approach to meeting this challenge
- membership development
- membership retention
The Membership Challenge in Freemasonry Today
In 2003, there were about 1.7 million Masons nationwide, a membership figure even lower than during the Great Depression year of 1941. As the Masonic Information Center put it, "Freemasonry is at its lowest membership level in at least 80 years" (It's About Time!, p. 3; see image above). We may think about the Blue Lodge's membership problems in terms of two factors: low rates of entry into the Craft, and high exit rates. Each of these is described below.
Low Entry Rates
It is well known that fewer people enter Freemasonry today than entered in earlier years. The situation in any given Grand Lodge can be established by considering the statistics reported in its Grand Communications. One example--neither better nor worse than the typical Grand Lodge, I would guess--is the Grand Lodge of Florida. In Florida, the number of men initiated was flat over each of two recent years (2004 and 2005), at approximately 1,480 per year, even as the population of Florida itself increased each year. (There was a 7.5% increase in the number of initiations during 2006, to 1,591; of course, 2006 was the year of the release of the motion picture, The Da Vinci Code, which mentioned Freemasons and, more especially, the Knights Templar. It is yet to be seen whether this increase will be permanent or not.)
High Exit Rates
Men exit Freemasonry in several ways: through death; through official voluntary exit, or "dimit"; through suspension, and, through expulsion. Suspension can be for a number of reasons, the most common being suspension for non-payment of dues (NPD); thus, we may think of a suspension for NPD as a sort of 'silent dimit.' Thus, official dimits and suspensions for NPD together can be labeled "voluntary attrition." Again, using the Grand Lodge of Florida only as a typical example, for the period 2004 through 2006 (see References below for sources), we note the following:
- The number of deaths averaged 1,449 annually during this period, while the number raised as Master Masons averaged 1,217 annually. Thus, deaths alone outnumbered the number raised as new Master Masons by over 19%.
- Voluntary attrition during these years averaged over 1,640 annually. Thus, just by itself, voluntary attrition exceeded the number of those raised as new Master Masons by almost 35%.
- The number of those who officially dimitted increased from 2004 to 2006 by a startling 31%.
These statistics are no doubt what led the distinguished Brother giving the Welcome at the opening session of the 2007 Florida Grand Communication to state, "We are one generation away from extinction." This Brother might as well have been saying this to just about any Grand Lodge in the United States.
It is a little-known but crucial finding that the amount of time that many Brothers remain in Freemasonry before attrition has sharply declined in recent generations. In one study, the average number of years between initiation and either dimit or suspension NPD has shown a stunning decline, from 17.8 years (for those initiated in the late 1940s) to 6.5 (for those initiated in the early 1980s). Thus, those who join and then ultimately leave have remained for a much shorter period of time, "about 20-30% of the time they [remained in Masonry] half a century ago," as John Belton put it. As noted Masonic author Chris Hodapp has observed:
In jurisdictions across the U.S. and Canada, the losses of members from deaths have been statistically tapering off, while the losses due to Freemasons walking away from the fraternity have been rising. ... [M]en whom we have initiated, passed, and raised are deciding in increasing numbers to say "No thanks" to what their local lodges offer.
What could be the cause for this painful situation?
In Part 2: The root causes for membership problems in the Blue Lodge.
Statistics of annual returns. (2006). In Proceedings of the One Hundred and Seventy-Seventh Annual Communication of the M:.W:. Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of Florida, Held at Orlando, Florida, May 29, 30 and 31, 2006 (p. 111). n.p.: The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida.
Statistics of annual returns. (2007). In Proceedings of the One Hundred and Seventy-Eighth Annual Communication of the M:.W:. Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of Florida, Held at Orlando, Florida, May 28, 29, and 30, 2007 (pp. 115-116). n.p.: The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida.
Statistics of annual returns. (1008, May). In Report of M:.W:. Robert P. Harry, Jr., Grand Master, M:.W:. Richard E. Lynn, Grand Secretary, to the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida (p. 65). n.p.: The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida.