"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kansas Article: "Dwindling Fraternal Membership"

A story out of Lawrence, Kansas spotlights fraternal groups like the Masons, Knights of Columbus, Eagles and others, focussing on the "dwindling numbers" angle.

From Fraternal reorder: Clubs, lodges face dwindling membership in modern world:
The Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization exclusive to practicing Catholic men, 18 years and older, recently retained a volunteer membership director who uses lists of new parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Church and word-of-mouth to find new blood.

Even so, member Joe Laframboise says his club's membership skews to the over-40 set. He blames a societal shift for the younger generation's lack of interest.

"When I was growing up - and I'm over 50 - we just had regular TV, for example," he points out. "There wasn't cable TV, the VCR and DVD hadn't come around yet. There are just so many other distractions, if you wish. You can do a lot of different things different ways - by yourself, in a group."

Laframboise cites the book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," written by Robert Putnam in 2000, who reported that the number of Americans attending club meetings has declined by 58 percent in just one generation. Two-parent working families and increased options for free-time activities are to blame, according to the author.

"People are just doing things by themselves on their computers, and they're not interested in belonging to a group," Laframboise says.

Doris Bateson, who with her husband, Leroy, has been active in the local Fraternal Order of Eagles since the '70s, says she is particularly disturbed by how the "Bowling Alone" problem affects Generation Y.

"The reason young people aren't getting involved is because they're not fraternally oriented. We're going to have to figure out a way to change that if we're going to survive," she says.

Bateson, who is a Past International President of FOE, believes the way to do that is to emphasize community service.

"Recently at (Aerie) 309, we've gotten more involved in community projects like the St. Patricks' Day parade and the Boys and Girls Club. The younger generation is joining because they want to be involved in community projects, and that's a good thing."

Still, Eagles membership is down - approximately 20 percent for women and 50 percent for men - since the Batesons helped build the current Eagles Lodge at 1803 W. Sixth St. The smoking ban, which went into effect in 2004, didn't help either.

"We lost 200 members with the smoking ban," says Leroy Bateson. "And bingo attendance dropped, too."

Dana Laudick, 57, daughter of Leroy and Doris and FOE member, sees another reason for the organization's degeneration.

"Young people are more than willing to help, and they're great at participating in charitable fundraisers. But - and my mother will disagree with me because she's 80 and a charter member - the rituals that some of these organizations adhere to - the stuff that goes on at the meetings - these kids aren't at all interested in that. It's boring to them. It's dated. You've got a 15-20 minute ritual that they perform just to open a meeting. They're not going to sit through that."

She said her 22-year-old son recently joined the lodge, primarily to use the lounge where liquor prices are lower than bars around town.

"We may have to start doing things a little differently than we did 100 years ago in order to get the involvement and do good things for the community," Laudick says.

Every fraternal group has its own traditions and challenges, and not all of them parallel Freemasonry. But I find it interesting that the older members spotlighted in this article (no "young" members were quoted) seem to think community service and removing the aspects that make their group unique is the path to the future. Once again, changes are being suggested by members in their 50s and 60s to attract younger members, without asking the very people they seek to attract in the first place. "Bowling Alone" came out a full decade ago. Where's the new study, the up to date data about fraternalism in the last ten years?

(BTW, my own personal pet peeve about government intervention in private property is well illustrated here: the Eagles, a private club that catered to the needs of its private membership, lost 200 members to their local smoking ban. Please, no anti-smoking jihadist postings here, because I'll probably just refuse to approve those comments. But the same thing is happening in the UK. Pubs are closing at an alarming rate in part because of the national smoking ban. But that's another topic...)


  1. I must confess, in my first scan of the article, and upon reading the assertion that the younger crowd doesn't join, I stopped reading.

    Until stop blaming someone else for our problems, we will never have the wisdom to resolve them, and attract younger members (assuming this is a goal).

    Perturbed in SLC

  2. I do think the constant focus on "young people" is misplaced, or at least mislabeled. Statistics show that over the last century, the median age for initiation in Freemasonry has been 38-45, after the kids leave home. So, "young" is a relative term. Perhaps "young-ish" is more apt.

    What is interesting is that in Indiana, a study revealed that men in their 20s want Freemasonry to be a slow, difficult accomplishment, while men in their 40-50s want it faster and easier.

    Robert Putnam focussed on the negative effects of television in his study. In-home distractions have only increased since 2000. 200 channels, on-demand movies, video games, high-speed internet connections, plus the skyrocketing numbers of people who work at home whose butts never get out of the computer chair for 16 hours a day and whose work and play time are constantly blurred. Throw in the huge time commitment of extracurricular programs if you have children. Interestingly, despite the longstanding canards about the huge numbers in the 1950s, I read a set of minutes at our downtown Temple from 1952 that discussed the fact that, in spite of record numbers of Masons on the membership rolls, no one was showing up for stated meetings. The reason, the Secretary concluded?

    Television, in 1952.

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head, Brother Hodapp. We, as older (I'm 45) members are thinking we know what our prospective, younger members might want in an organization such as ours. I think the best thing we can do is survey our current members (because the return of those who have wandered away is just as important), those who have just joined and perhaps some sort of sampling of a men of the "target age."

    Then, we can determine if what we are doing as leaders is helping or hurting the situation. At my Lodge, for far too long, it seemed the goal of our WMs was simply status quo (at best) or just try to show up to a meeting on time (sadly).

    When I was made WM this year, I resolved to change things. I brought back fellowship dinners before EVERY meeting. Minutes are posted and e-mailed and not read in Lodge. We have charity, scholarship and other committees who meet independently and are given just a minute or two to make only the necessary updates.

    We stress fellowship and Brotherly Love by hosting events and activities. I fostered a sense of passion and ambition in our Officers, charging them to do better than anyone before in their Chair. The Lodge takes pride in its accomplishments and, if we do anything publicly, it's publicized.

    We make contact with older members, assigning them to active members who update them on our meetings and events and invite them out. I make personal contact with each member at least twice a year. We use our Grand Lodge's new Call-Em-All recorded message service for meetings, updates, events and simply greetings.

    We use today's social media smartly as well. We're on Facebook, Twitter and have a great blog updated almost daily. We have member e-mails and make use them to e-mail out Monthly Trestleboard updates and e-newsletters.

    The result of all of this? Well, we went from 8-10 guys per meeting to nearly a consistent 30. In fact, we get new members (2 to 3) almost every meeting and have so much degree work that we have to have special meetings.

    Now, we have a university near us and have capitalized on that. One of our newer members, a student, organized a Masonic Club on campus and we target our student government and fraternal leaders. They're coming in droves and, as a result, we're changing our "programming" to suit their needs (Masonic education at every meeting, assignment to long-term mentors and social events like -- this weekend -- a women's roller derby bout).

    Problems with membership? Not if you think about how your "target market" likes to be contacted, communicated with and you make a concerted effort to keep up the passion and interest.

    DeKalb, Ill.

  4. As the president of of my college fraternity's alumni association, each year we collect information on the new guys, including why they joined. Year after year, it wasn't the big house, or the sorority women, or the business networking that may or may not take place after graduation. The #1 reason was to make new friends. It's also why guys stick around.

    Men and women are still joining fraternities and sororities in droves for the most part (and they're expensive!), so I don't buy the TV/internet distraction theory one bit. Successful fraternities are active ones where pretty much everyone is involved in something... planning events, mentoring, sports, academics, etc. Inactive fraternity chapters die, just like Masonic lodges.

    Chapters that don't have active alumni involvement also die, so it's important for lodges to continue to involve past masters and more seasoned members. But these members equally need to know when to step aside and let the younger generation lead and try new things. That's called progress.

    Lodges that chase young members by offering the easy way in appear desperate and unattractive. The 20's/30's generation isn't looking for the easy way, but for an organization that will truly benefit their life and schedule. They want to be associated with the traditions and dignity of the institution. This is empowering stuff folks.

    The young Masons I meet that feel empowered belong to active lodges. Ones that are disappointed by the minutia, no education, poor ritual, crappy food, and weak events, aren't gonna stick around.

    And this has nothing to do with lodges or grand lodges getting out in the public eye. Why? Masonry does not have a recruitment problem, it has a retention problem. And that is a FACT.

  5. I'm always a little amazed when I hear people talking about the average age of Masons, as my Lodge seems to buck this tradition. I'm a member of a Lodge in a small town in southwestern Ohio, and while the average age of the brethren is about 50, I'm one of a growing number of brothers in their mid twenties to mid thirties who are passionate about the fraternity, eager to lear about the history and traditions of Freemasonry and look forward to the day when they can serve the Lodge as officers. This is not to say there are not petitioners who are older than us, but since January 1, 2010, there have been eight men under thirty who have asked to be initiated into our Lodge. I've found that many people of my age group have expressed a desire to be a part of something larger than themselves and to give back to their community in some way, and for whatever reason never knew Freemasonry could fulfill this desire. I do think more people of my age group could afford to look beyond their immediate needs and surroundings and see the beauties of Freemasonry. That's my two-cents, anyway.

  6. An interesting trend I am seeing—don't know how widespread it is yet—existing members in their 20s bringing in their 65+ year old fathers.

  7. Brother Chris,

    With all due respect, the men who joined Freemasonry in the 18th century were not joining just a fraternal organization.

    Freemasonry meant something then.
    Men gave their lives for it.

    They were challenging the establishment, and standing up for values that are now taken for granted.

    You, more than most, due to your studies, have an idea why men in Europe joined the Freemasons in the early days.

    It was not to be a member of the Eagles, or the Moose.

    Young people will always have a revolutionary side. Freemasonry alone can tap into that desire to build a better world.

    That was what it was all about to begin with.

  8. As a postscript, I often think that Freemasonry has lost its way.

    When Freemasonry began, there was little in the way of democracy in the world.

    Rulers taught that they were in power by the will of God.

    To enslave others based on their race or religion was perfectly acceptable.

    I can hardly imagine living in those times. Yet most men considered those beliefs natural and normal at the time.

    Today we live in a world were most people at least pay lip service to the ideas that all are equal, that your race and religion are a private matter.

    When I think that Freemasonry has outlived its usefulness, I am reminded of the discrimination and suffering that continues in our world.

    The day that Freemasonry becomes just another fraternal organization, that is the day that Freemasonry no longer has a reason to exist.

    We owe something to the men that started this organization in the first place.

  9. Please don't misunderstand what I was saying. Or maybe I just didn't make sense.

    What I meant to say was that I think it's *odd* that the older members in the Eagles and the KofC believe the key to growing their popularity among the vast countryside of new *young* members is to pursue community service and pimp their charities. Freemasonry has discovered this doesn't work, or at least the active lodges with *young* members have figured it out. People join fraternal organizations because they seek fraternalism. And they choose a particular brand because of their history, their rituals, their buildings, their reputation, or simply because they like the other people within the group. They don't join because of billboards or PR campaigns or self-aggrandizing back-slapping over charities. If you want to give away your money, the United Way is more efficient than any fraternal group.

    Freemasonry is unique among fraternal groups. It needs to be treated as such by those of us who have inherited its reins.

  10. We had our Board of General Purposes meeting last night, at which I was confirmed as the only candidate for Master for the year 2010-2011. Last week I attended a course on communicating with management on software quality topics, and one of the subject we covered was discovering requirements and setting measurable targets and goals. On the bus going home I reflected on how I could apply this knowledge and I thought that perhaps setting a couple of requirements and goals for my Mastership would be interesting.

    So, last night, our Board of General Purposes approved two requirements/goals for the next year.

    1) Get at least three men into the pipeline for initiation in the next year.
    2) Ask every brother (who wishes to) to commit a set piece of ritual to memory during the year.

    We have been lucky in that we have not (in the past five years that I have been a Brother) had to have a lecture or demonstration in Lodge--we have had a steady stream of candidates. This year I hope that we can energise the Brethren to be more open about their Freemasonry and thus attract questioners and inquirers to learn more and perhaps petition to join.

    I originally limited the other goal to members who had joined within the last 5 years. However, one of our senior PMs said that he thought that every member, no matter how senior or junior, should be encouraged to commit some piece of ritual to memory. We are losing through death and disability several dear Brethren who are skilled at ritual, including our only brother who can do the entire 3rd degree. I memorised the Traditional History for my friend and brother's Raising in November but was unfortunately hospitalised and couldn't attend. Our grand officer phoned about 150 Brethren he knew and only 2 could do the Traditional History and only 1 was able to commit to attending.

    So these are our goals for next year. Now to craft the strategies and designs to make them a reality.

    Assuming I am elected Master at our February meeting, I will be installed in May. The buck will then stop here.

    Bro. Chris Hansen, SW
    Goliath Lodge #5595, UGLE

  11. Chris, as always, great article. Being a younger mason at the age of 32, I actually feel that Freemasonry re-gaining its true self. In the 50s people joined to “get a job with the city” or to get otherwise plugged-in into the social networks. These days, younger members are joining to improve themselves and experience fraternity (you can get social networking online). The amount of Masonic research that is going on right now in our lodge (in Toronto, Ontario) amazes the older cadre. We have a six-month waiting list of initiates (most under the age of 35). Interestingly, you mentioned that “in the old days”, despite high membership rolls, nobody actually showed up to meetings. The new Freemasonry emerges now with lower numbers but much better quality of members. Freemasonry is not a substitute for a TV or DVD or internet, rather it’s a tool to improve one’s life. Those who seek it – come to lodge, those who want entertainment – watch TV.

    Without being too familiar with Eagles, I would never recommend for a club that values traditions to re-design themselves.

  12. On the smoking ban, or ANY ban for that matter. I don't understand places banning things and then wondering why people don't show up any more. The next thing you know, talking with be banned because it may become too loud.

  13. Nice spirited discussion. I think "hatrock" said it best: Freemasonry does not have a recruitment problem, it has a member retention problem.

    Our Lodge too has an enormous amount of interest and a huge backlog of guys joining (though, in an effort not to put them off too long, we schedule extra meeting and special degree work to accommodate them -- also keeps out mentors busy!).

    As most will attest, 90% of being a leader is communication. Like herding cats, I once heard someone say.

  14. We lost a handful of people to the smoking ban. They held a vote and it came out that way.

    35 years of smoke does wonders for the interior of a building. From the yellowed walls and ceilings, to almost ruined portraits and certificates hanging on the wall.

    Now we have to do some serious maintenance and clean up to restore the building to something that people would WANT to come to.

    Who want's to bring their family to eat a place that looks like that?

    I don't support government bans on smoking in bars - but lodges really need to consider the damage it does to their building and valuable items from their history. This is coming from a 24 year old too.

    Wayne Middleton
    Community Lodge 292, Tampa, FL

  15. In my Lodge in Long Beach, Ca. we’ve been slightly growing for the past two years. The first reason for growth is this: A few younger Masons (thirty-somethings) started getting together at the Lodge for sodas and discussion, then would move to the nearby music club or pool hall for drinks, fun and more talk. This is the important thing, that the Brethren become real friends outside the Lodge, not just getting together for meetings and degrees. These younger Masons have pulled in non-Mason friends and acquaintances for Lodge events and many have petitioned.

    About ten years ago I wrote an essay about this subject, urging the leadership of Freemasonry to look at the groups that were growing. What were these groups doing to attract new members? At the time not only the Lodges were loosing members, but other groups were suffering the same fate. The groups that I perceived as growing were the “Iron John” men’s movement and very ceremonial religions that relied heavily on history like the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Judaism, Wicca and Islam. I felt that there were a lot of men looking for fraternalism and history. All the Lodges had to do was reach out and make ourselves known to these men and there was a high likelihood that they would petition. A high visibility presence on the internet is one way to get visibility. Open house at the Lodge and making the building available for other community events is another means of visibility. Yet one more scheme is to participate in community events. We’ve had a Lodge booth up at local car shows, chili cook-offs and marathons. Many of our new petitioners first heard about us one of these ways.
    -Al Turek, PM-

  16. I think that the real reason for a drop in secretive fraternal organizations is because younger people have been raised on "openness" through their exposure to the internet. Secretive rituals seem rather backward, and an exclusive "mens" club or "womens" club seems like something of another era.

    Welcome to the 21st century.


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