Someone raised an interesting question today. He asked if there was a particular number of members a lodge had to drop to, at which point the lodge starts a tailspin to failure, with almost no hope of return. That’s a tough question, and I don’t know if there’s so tidy of an answer to it. It’s no secret that membership in fraternal organizations began a steep decline in the Boomer generation. There were a lot of contributing socio-economic factors, but as the world spins on, things change and now these groups are rebuilding. I fully expect, however, that the destiny of healthy lodges will be smaller and more flexible, and many lodges, even those who have clawed their way through the 80s and 90s, are going to go away. I can’t really sit here, on the outside, and claim to know why a lodge fails. I’ve never seen it happen in person, like some of my brothers, and it seems judgmental to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Believe me, masons get enough of that in a healthy lodge.
But I do enjoy observing people, and I can see what they respond to and what they don’t respond to, and I know myself pretty well, and what it would take to keep me home. Healthy lodges are places where all the roles are filled. I don’t mean the officers chairs. I mean the idea-makers, the supporters, the experts, the teachers, the learners, the leaders, and the followers. Everyone wants to fit somewhere. Everyone wants to be useful. A good, healthy lodge has a role to fill for everyone. This need not be official. These roles naturally occur as part of group dynamics.
Also, a healthy lodge has opportunity available for every kind of mason. Some masons prefer ritual, some prefer education, some fellowship. For those who like education there are those who dig formal presentations, and those who prefer informal discussion groups. Some prefer the fellowship of coffee and conversation, others prefer events, either organizing them or participating in them. A lodge won’t have all of these people, and thank God for that, but it will have a few. And when a brother comes to lodge, looks around, and realizes there isn’t anything specifically interesting for him, then he may as well go home. It’s all the same.
To me, this is when a lodge starts to fail. When it’s not serving the needs of its members. And when does a lodge reach that critical point where it begins to spiral downward? I believe it’s at the point where you not only don’t have something to interest a brother, but you begin asking him to do things he actively doesn’t want to do. “We need an extra hand at the fundraiser. We’d really appreciate your help.” “I know you don’t like degree work, but can you take to Junior Warden’s seat for the Third?” “Can you be steward/tyler/marshal/junior deacon this year? We don’t have enough brothers to fill the seats.”
It’s almost an embarrassing thing to write. Am I really saying that there are brothers who are so self-centered that they aren’t willing to pitch in a bit to help their lodge? Have we all become so lazy? YES! OF COURSE WE ARE!
We are all self-centered, at some point. We’re supposed to be self-centered. The point of Freemasonry is to improve the self, and if you’re constantly being asked to do things that you don’t like to do, and that you have determined is not going to help you personally grow, then what’s the point? It affects everyone. Even those steadfast officers who are perfectly happy to take chairs and roles eventually ask themselves “Do I really want to be Master again? Can I keep being the secretary for one more year? I’ve just been asked to be the treasurer, but I’ve got no talent for that.” And then those core officers, who are so tired, and who have had the craft they love turned into the work they hate, start to leave, and at that point it’s over.
So what’s the magic number of brothers a lodge gets down to, when they’ve reached the point of no return? Well, it’s different for every lodge, but it’s the point when your brothers start feeling hassled. When Freemasonry is a hassle, it’s not Freemasonry, it’s just another bullshit thing you have to do during the week. And it really is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to face your brothers and say “No, I won’t be helping you with that.” And no one likes to be embarrassed. No one likes to feel ashamed. It’s just so much easier to stay home.
About the Author: Matt Gallagher is a Master Mason at Braden Lodge, and father of four. He has been a member of the Craft since 2010, blogs at Braden 160 each Thursday, and regularly at his own blog at Stones ‘n’ Bones. His opinions are his own, and do not necessarily represent the thoughts or opinions of Braden Lodge No. 168.