Where have all Our New Members Gone?
Many times, I have visited lodges throughout our state and I have heard good news about new members joining a lodge. Often, if I return to that lodge, I ask about the new members and I hear similar responses; they stopped attending, they couldn’t attend on their meeting night, they’re too busy, or any of a myriad of other excuses. Eventually, many, if not most, of the new members discontinue attending, and our lodges tend to continue much as they always have, with the same “tired old faces”, (to quote a long-time member), and bereft of the new and fresh faces we should all be in search of. This then illustrates the other facet of the membership issue; the problem is not solely obtaining new members but also retaining them.
Why is retention of members in a lodge an issue?
Of course, the answer does not fit every lodge, but every lodge in an age where membership is problematical should at least pose the question. In my view, lodges on the downward trajectory tend to be boring, filled with ponderous individuals reciting passages from our ritual with little or no feeling. Conversely, if a new or fresh face appears, the same tired old face tends to brighten measurably, and what just seemed ponderous, can look suddenly new. Consider this sobering fact: our order gets hundreds of new members every year in our state alone, yet, hundreds more fall off the membership rolls as well. This tends to illustrate that this problem is more than an isolated problem in a lodge far from your own. In fact, many, if not most, of our lodges, are symptomatic of this issue. In many lodges, there is a core attending continually, of 5 to 15 individuals who not only rarely change, but apparently find a great deal of comfort in remaining static. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is clearly one of the reasons for the problem itself. Eventually, this group becomes almost impenetrable, quite evidently reluctant to change in any significant way. In other words, while they may claim they want new members, they want only those who are philosophically and idealistically identical to the group itself.
How do we solve this issue?
Simple. We listen to those who fail to attend and then leave. Why did they leave? In many lodges, the reason for this is painfully obvious. In some lodges, they meet at an obscure time or place, inconvenient in some way. In other lodges, the old-timers are not friendly or welcoming of new members. And in other lodges, there is either unrest between members, genuinely mean people who seem to decide all rules, or simply other methods by which they tend to constrict growth. Brother Rosenberg is correct – some lodges simply don’t want new members, in fact, they show it in all their actions.
We need to practice a little self-examination. If we fear new members for one reason or another, then there is something basically wrong with our lodge. If we can fix this problem, not only can we move on unencumbered, we can exhibit our lodge as something all members may be proud of.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles