It was the "Greatest Generation," or World World II veterans, who triggered the major boom in many organizations after the war ended in 1945.
"They were ready to own this society, to be a part of everything," said Duane Vaught,deputy grandmaster of Grand Encampment of Knights Templar, a Christian-oriented fraternal organization open only to Freemasons.
"Unbelievable numbers of them joined everything. Our membership skyrocketed starting in the mid-'40s until the mid-'60s. Our membership was huge in the '50s. Everybody wanted to be a member."But their grandchildren — baby boomers who came of age around 1970 — were not joiners, he said.
"We are taking in a pretty decent number of members each year, but the deaths among the WWII generation offset the people joining every single year," he said. "That's the unfortunate part."
George Braatz, executive secretary of the Masonic Service Association of North America, agreed.
"During the Vietnam War, across our country, there was a feeling that no organization could be trusted," he said. "The people of that age did not participate. They did not get involved in service organizations."
Other groups, such as the local Freemasons, say they are finding results simply by being more visible. In the past, Freemasons were not allowed to tell anyone they were Masonic. Due to declining numbers, however, they have become more visible.
"Freemasonry doesn't recruit, but we do work to try and attract," said J. Keith Henry, member of Lafayette Lodge 123. "Attraction is passive. We give them the opportunity (and) information. We talk to them, but they have to make the first step and talk to us."His lodge sets up an informational booth at the Mosey Down Main Street festivals during summer months.
Decline started in the '80s, when the massive WWII membership influx began dying out. By 2000, however, the membership numbers started to bounce back, Henry said. "But they are not coming back super fast," he said. "We don't have massive numbers like they did after the wars." There are about 150 members in his lodge now, he said. He could not easily locate past membership numbers, he added.
He attributes the uptick in membership to forming relationships with Purdue University fraternities and Ivy Tech Community College and restoring the Merou Grotto — the social club for Master Masons on North River Road in West Lafayette. They restored the prophet's lounge and the dining room on the second floor. The facility is also used for outreach, such as a community flea market held during the summer.
"Believe it or not, guys want to find things that don't always involve going out and drinking," he said. The new members have been age 45 and younger. In the '90s, the average member age was in the 70s, Henry said.
Technology has also worked in the group's favor. "A lot of people think social media is great, but it lacks the physical connection, the handshake, the breaking of bread with your brothers," he said. "A lot of people lack that social connection and they are starting to look for it."