As I have traveled through the District, I have had the opportunity to speak with many Brothers about how the Lodge has evolved over the years. One thing is clear: it is without debate that today’s Masonic Lodge is not the same as one we might have visited thirty, forty, or fifty years ago.
The Lodge is different. Society is different. That is okay as long as we remain mentally nimble enough to recognize and adapt to change. Too often we hide behind excuses like “times have changed,” or “all social organizations have declining membership” to justify our unwillingness to see our Fraternity through the eyes of the next generation. In essence, these excuses have become anchors; not anchors that steady us in stormy seas, but ones which keep us from even unfurling our sails and leaving familiar shores. What follows is a list of the most common myths about Lodge attendance.
Today’s man is too busy to come to Lodge. The myth of the overbooked schedule has been around for ages. In an effort to explain declining attendance, people point to the 1950s and how the wife took care of the house and kids, giving the man an opportunity to go to his social club at night.
While that may be true, it is equally true that men today still spend time together. Cigar clubs, bowling alleys, restaurants, and bars are full of men socializing on nearly any night of the week. Men regularly take time away from their busy family schedules to watch their favorite teams compete. They even participate in sports like golf, tennis, hunting, and fishing without negatively impacting their home lives.
What we need to ask ourselves then, is why they aren’t choosing Freemasonry.
One reason is that we are viewed as a sort of dinosaur that somehow survived the Ice Age. We only have ourselves to blame for that. We have held on to our customs, refusing to adapt to the change that has taken place around us. I was at a Lodge last June, and the program was . . . anyone? Anyone? You guessed it – Strawberry Night. I will resist the urge to begin a rant about how Strawberry Night is no more of a Lodge program than Freemasons at Gettysburg is a side dish for your roast beef dinner. At this meeting, there were thirteen of us – the Lodge officers, one visitor and me. Sadly, I can almost guarantee you that this year’s program for June will also be Strawberry Night.
If we fail to observe what it is that young men want, choosing instead to give them what the men of the 1950s wanted, we are sure to fail.
“Fine,” you say, shaking your head. “No one is going to want to _________.” No matter how you complete that sentence, as long as it is an activity that is within the bounds of decorum and social responsibility, it is simply untrue. In your Lodge, there is someone who would: go to an art museum, flower show, or concert. There is also someone who would volunteer at the food bank, homeless shelter, or church. There are still others who would attend yoga class, golf, ride a motorcycle, or shoot sporting clays. There is simply no way to know what people will do until you give them a chance to do it.
How do you measure the success of a first time event? Not by attendance. Every Lodge has a few intrepid souls who will brave the new adventures without fear or hesitation. Likewise, every Lodge has those who will sit by and see how the first run goes before they commit - rushing blindly into the unknown universe of ballroom dancing is reckless, after all. Quite simply, we should gauge success by the quality of the time shared, the bonds created, and the memories made.
The last, and arguably the most damaging myth is that Freemasonry has nothing to offer today’s young man.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. There exists no organization that offers a man what Freemasonry does. We give men a deeply symbolic, moving initiatic experience, an illuminated path to being their best selves, and a chance to meet men they would never have had the occasion to meet anywhere else. Additionally Masonry comes with an extended family that literally spans the globe. Masons are never alone, never without help, and never far from a friend.
Don’t believe the myths. Men need us, but they need to know about us. Don’t assume that your young neighbor doesn’t have the time to join a Lodge. Ask him. Let him know that if he gives us his time, we can teach him to be a better husband, father, and son. Don’t be timid about trying new events. People will come, maybe slowly at first, but they will come. Finally, don’t forget that what we offer is valuable. We take ordinary men and make them . . . Freemasons.