Freemasonry's Obsession With Empty Chairs

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°
Here's a little known fact about Freemasons--they are obsessed with empty chairs.  You don't have to talk very long to just about any group of Masons, and the subject of all those empty chairs comes up.  "We've got to fill those empty chairs in our Lodges!" they'll exclaim.  The Blue Lodges are worried about empty chairs.  The Scottish Rite is worried about those empty chairs.  The York Rite is worried about empty chairs.  The Shrine.  Amaranth.  Order of the Eastern Star.  "We've got to fill those blessed empty chairs!"

Grand Lodges come up with plans to increase membership.  Here in Illinois, just since I've been a Mason we've had several different ideas about how to fill those chairs.  We went from 2B1ASK1 to being able to ask somebody if they'd like to join our Fraternity.  We still have empty chairs.  One of our Grand Masters, a good friend of mine, had a great plan.  Every member should add a member to their Blue Lodge.  He was known to always have petitions in his pocket.  We did add members, but we still have empty chairs.  My York Rite Chapter back when I joined came up with a magic number of new members they'd like to add that year, and they worked tirelessly, putting on degrees, and putting guys through the Chapter.  They added a large number of new members.  I was one of those guys that went through then.  Guess what?  They still have empty chairs!

The problem is, we're asking the wrong question.  The question isn't how can we fill those chairs--the question is why are those chairs empty to begin with?
When I joined the Lodge, it was because I was looking for something.  I wanted to improve myself.  I wanted to learn new things.  I wanted to gain new skills.  I wanted to be more active in my community.  I wanted to be a part of something traditional and something ancient.  In an ever changing world, I wanted something in my life that remained steady and consistent.  And I've found all those things, but not entirely within the walls of my Lodge.  Much of what I've gained has been through my own explorations and studies into the Craft.  If it hadn't been for my own initiative I'm not sure I would have found that greater meaning that makes my Lodge attendance and participation so fulfilling.

Our chairs are empty because so many of our Lodges have gotten so involved with the business of Freemasonry, they've forgotten the purpose of the Craft--to make good men better by constantly working to improve ourselves.  We spend so much time reading minutes, and reciting committee reports, we forget that we're supposed to be learning something as well.  The expectation of our membership versus the reality of our meetings is the reason so many of our chairs are empty.

The world is a busy place, and very few men are willing to waste a couple hours of their time once or twice a month to sit through a meeting when the only thing they might learn in that meeting is that the Lodge's building insurance went up 8% from last year, and somebody needs to make sure we have enough pancake mix by Saturday's breakfast.
There's no sense in worrying about how to fill those chairs in your Lodge if you aren't willing to figure out why they are empty to begin with.  We must do better.  Like it was said in that famous movie "Field of Dreams"-- if you build it they will come.  Your Lodge will start seeing fewer and fewer empty chairs when you start giving your members, old and new, the thing we promised them in the beginning.



Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and continues to be a regular contributor. He is the author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and currently serves as Secretary.  He's also a member of Homer Lodge No. 199.  He is a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Charter President of the Illini High Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL), and a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research.  He was recently awarded the 2014 Illinois Secretary of the Year Award by the Illinois Masonic Secretaries Association.  You can contact him at:


  1. There's no sense in worrying about how to fill those chairs in your Lodge if you aren't willing to figure out why they are empty to begin with. We must do better. Like it was said in that famous movie "Field of Dreams"-- if you build it they will come. Your Lodge will start seeing fewer and fewer empty chairs when you start giving your members, old and new, the thing we promised them in the beginning.



  2. This is so true. I think thee is so much more we can do for our members in the form of mentoring and education, and our communities in the form of volunteering and leadership.

  3. Reading this article, I realized that it is a problem that exists everywhere. Here in Brazil also live with that. It is unfortunate!

  4. I know it can be changed. It starts with a conversation in one meeting, and goes from there.

  5. Hello Brothers,
    I must say, this article really resonates with me deeply.
    I am a Master Mason from Byron Lodge #274 in Byron, Illinois.
    Our lodge is seeing some of the very same situations described in your article.
    We are doing degrees, getting people through to Master Mason but still seeing chairs vacant and lodge activities scarcely attended.
    I would venture to say that we are a fairly active lodge as a whole and we have increased the amount of annual fundraisers exponentially yet we still see our lodge fairly bare.
    We are well aware that it is not an isolated situation and that many other lodges across the world are facing these same issues.
    So in order to address the situation we looked at the larger picture and realized that we need to provide MORE to the brothers, than just meeting once a month, paying the bills, hearing the minutes and possibly donating a small amount to a local charity.
    So with all that being said, A brother from the lodge and I have spent many, many hours trying to come up with ideas to stimulate our members and other Masons from nearby lodges in hopes that once they see that we have more to offer that maybe they will want to come around more often, pitch in more and bring and attract new members into Freemasonry.
    Our most recent event transpired this evening, 9/24/2015.
    The brother that I spoke of earlier and myself began organizing, advertising and creating a Masonic trivia night with a full taco bar, prizes for the winners of the trivia challenge, certificates for all and a chance to share a fun evening of learning about the craft together. We promoted the trivia challenge in many other nearby lodges, made sure to promote via social media outlets, email chains, text messaging chains, phone calls, our website, physical flyers, etc. Our entire goal was to get brothers together to actually LEARN about Freemasonry in a fun and challenging way and to have brothers and new members understand that there is more to Freemasonry than just ritual, memorization, bills and minutes. By no means am I stating that those things are not important because I know that they are VERY important but we wanted to address the situation of the monotony and attempt to give the members more and to provide a change of pace in a new and exciting way.
    Unfortunately the saddest part about the entire thing is that a grand total of FIVE people showed up and thank goodness for them but we were genuinely hoping to have at least 5x that number. As I stated above, we promoted this event with ample advanced notice and did so on multiple platforms of communication and announcement boards yet it was almost like you could literally hear the crickets chirping.
    It makes me feel like it may not be worth the effort any longer when we are trying so hard and things still fall flat on their face.
    We're trying to lead our "horses" to water but they don't seem thirsty.
    I apologize for the lengthy reply but I read your article and thought that it was a very appropriate spot to describe our experience and possibly spark discussion on the topic with hopes that a resolution could come of it.

    -Josiah Lee Henson, 32°

  6. The solution to the empty chair problem is fairly simple to implement.

  7. I really must share with you my paper on this apparently national problem. I am a multiple Past Master, Past York Rite bodies presiding officer, Scottish Rite KCCH, plus multiple ancillary bodies presiding officer. Obviously the following is my opinion only;
    We suffer from a Kakestocracy; As we try to determine what actions are required in order to return the Fraternity to what some of us feel was its initial purpose we seem to attempt various methods that revolve around the mantra of "more members". We seem to promote an opinion and an organization that confines us to a prospect of a fallen or at least a static nature. The values and purpose of that past state and the path toward its recovery should spread like water or fire...irresistibly.
    We are advancing only with much difficulty and then with the least selectivity in those we invite into our fellowship and that is because something is lacking to present the splendor of Truth, that important goal to which we are striving to reach.
    What is lacking? What should we be doing? What are our initiates looking for? Are we helping them in their search and/or helping to identify what it is they are searching for? Obviously, first and foremost, are we entertaining only those who truly wish to walk the path to light? Do we explain fully what it is we do, how and why we do it? Are those who desire to join us made aware of our goals and are true purpose?
    Before we can do that, those who allege to lead and teach us must first learn exactly what that is. They must be able to define our purpose so that others can be made aware of our values. Our leaders no longer seem to have a complete and ardent adherence to the light for which we search. Can we produce a product that has the initiate no choice but to be carried away on the ground on which he stands with the enthusiasm of the Brethren and thereby escape from the limitations of his own self?
    An instinct of self preservation is proper to every organization and it is a predictable reaction to this instinct which accounts for the attitude adopted, most unfortunately, by many Grand Lodges, that to improve the Fraternity, membership must be expanded, even at the expense of quality.
    Grand Lodges using this example have allowed an increasingly wide breach to open between what we are supposed to teach and what we have become. It is a mistake which will take a long time to correct and it cannot change until the first steps are taken. "Verita liberabit vos"....The Truth will make you free. It is useless to deny that we must identify what it is we promote and what it is that the initiate is looking for in order to insure that we are prepared to give him what he enters our portals to obtain.
    We need to replace any and all negative aspects we see in the Fraternity and its governance with positive ideas and devotion to the greater than self. To teach that the greater use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. So you see we are left, not only with the task to repair, but also to develop and rebuild our Fraternity by promoting those values which we continue to inculcate, but fall short in teaching.
    We are adrift in a backwater of abstract teaching whose standard is quantity rather than quality and we have lost contact with our real purpose. We are being confined to a little artificial world of ritualism and extravagances and cut off from the true current of reality.


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