So, I’ve been thinking about the way things were and the way things are now. For at least a few centuries in this country, the lodge was thought of as a destination. Rarely did lodges meet in the same building and the idea was that a lodge was recognized as successful once it could afford its own lodge building. Lodges in the country were the place where all the local businessmen, farmers, lawyers, doctors, and other well-to-do men would meet and talk shop. Lodges in the city were neighborhood lodges and functioned very much like their country cousins, living in the community.
Now, many lodges in America can no longer afford the upkeep of a building as they struggle to be relevant in the modern age. The car has made traveling much faster and easier thus increasing the distance a brother can go to his home lodge. Is there a panacea to solve the loss of membership and the lack of interest within our own lodges? My thought is that we need to get away from the destination model and enter into the theme model.
The theme model already exists in many jurisdictions under the term “Affinity lodge.” Of course, I think using the term Affinity really limits what a theme lodge could be. It’s not merely providing one single common interest to mix the cement that a brother needs to stay in the house not made with hands.
Historically, lodges were a destination, a place to be and the relationships between brothers came from that geographical locale. Now, brothers join lodges that are not necessarily near their homes. They join where their friends are, an affinity lodge, or a lodge with a great presence, either on the Web or through some other public relations manner.
We don’t have a raising problem, we have a retention problem. So what do we do? Like any great song, a lodge needs a hook. It needs something that captures the attention and wonder of a man. But it’s not just about capturing his attention for the short term; he needs to stay engaged for the rest of his life. He needs a hook to keep singing the song of Freemasonry in his heart. I have been thinking about concrete, real world examples that will really help lodges.
One idea is to hold a degree or a mini school of instruction once a month, regardless of whether a lodge has candidates or not. Invite other lodges that have candidates to come down and confer the degrees as a courtesy. Let them watch what part of the degree is the main focus for your lodge. At the end of the degree, invite the brothers to give their impressions of the ritual, not just critiques of what needs to be improved but really delve deep into what the degree means. Young men, like myself, crave the ritual, and have a desire for learning. Encourage some friendly disagreement on what the symbolism means or allow a brother to voice his opinion on a Masonic subject. Lodges can be a place of different thinkers, all searching for common truth, even when we see it from a different perspective. Making the lodge a veritable School of Athens will encourage retention.
Another thought would be to create a distinct theme. In Minnesota, as I mentioned above, we have four lodges that are built around a single theme. Two examples are Sir Winston Churchill Lodge No. 351 and Saint Paul Lodge No. 3. Churchill Lodge bills itself as a British theme lodge (if there are any Scottish Masons out there, I think they use British as a term because we, in America, don’t see a distinction with being English or Scottish and being British). They wear English regalia and have lodge officers that would correspond to those in England. Saint Paul Lodge No. 3 is a Traditional Observance Lodge. It follows the rubric set out by the Masonic Restoration Foundation. These include a festive board, a chain of union, and a focused look at the performing the ritual and presenting scholarly papers. Both lodges have found success through finding a niche.
Lodges in the city should share space. This helps defray the cost of housing the lodge but also gives it the ability to share Fraternal bonds with the other lodges. We can't afford the one body, one building model anymore. Sharing the load can really help and also makes the building a place of gathering.
Finally, all lodges should be using social media and the Internet to connect with their members. Nearly every lodge brother has an email account. This means that sending an email to a lodge is easy and can get the word out quickly. And since lodges are drawing so many young people, lodges should have at a minimum, a lodge Facebook page (you can find Corinthian Lodge and Braden Lodge by clicking the hyperlinks). A Facebook page is free and can easily connect a new brother to his lodge. From there, lodges can and should create a true web presence, a website, to become the Internet front door for your lodge. My lodge, Corinthian Lodge No. 67, saw a huge increase in the number of interested men and members of the community wanting to talk with us because we had a website with a contact field. For more insights, please read Bro. Matt Gallagher’s article on using the Internet to improve your Lodge.
Lodges need to be different. We need to try new things to find our niche. Men are looking for different things from the Fraternity and lodges will need to adapt to survive and more importantly, to thrive. After the theme takes hold, your lodge will once again become a destination.
Do you have any thoughts about this article? What have you found to be successful in your lodge? Please post a comment below.