The Shotgun or The Sniper Rifle
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Adam Thayer
In today’s Masonic world, I find that most lodges treat new candidate recruitment and admission in one of two ways: as a shotgun, or as a sniper rifle. I admit, it’s a dangerous analogy to make, given that gun ownership is currently such a hot button issue, however a careful examination will prove that it is both prudent and fitting.
On one side, you have lodges who view recruitment as a shotgun blast; let’s bring in as many candidates as possible, in the hopes that one or two of them will stick. This type of lodge generally performs their degrees in one day (the so-called “Blue Lightning” classes), bringing in many men at once, and turning them loose at the end of the day as Freemasons. In the best of these lodges, there are mentors assigned to each man, so that they can continue to learn from the experience, and in the end still will make good Masons.
On the other side, you have lodges who view recruitment as a sniper rifle; they very carefully choose who they will admit, spending time selecting only those they deem worthy based on a set of ever-changing standards. Often, you will find that they only bring in one or two new members a year, and although those new members will stick around, their growth is not high enough to offset the attrition they are experiencing due to their aging membership.
I belong to two lodges in my home state; one of each type. In the larger lodge, the attitude is to bring in as many new men per year as possible, without resorting to one-days, accepting the loss of many of those men as inevitable, and hoping to retain a few good ones. While we do assign mentors to these men, the main purpose is to teach them the catechism, as our lodge requires the traditional “long form” prove-up between degrees. When we retain a man, he generally turns into an amazing brother, who will climb through the advancing line of leadership, and the lodge becomes better for it. It also provides us plenty of practice for degrees, and as a result we consistently have one of the better degree teams in the state.
Having said that, there are issues to this approach. Officer burn-out is common. Many men who would have been great brothers are lost due to (what they perceive as) our lack of interest in them as individuals. For those lodges that do participate in the one-day degrees, we find that the percentage of those who are retained is even lower; many find themselves disappointed that there was not more to the experience, and simply never come back.
In the smaller of my two lodges, the attitude is very different; we’re a close-knit community of friends, and are reluctant to let new men join until we’ve met with them multiple times, done a thorough vetting process, and verified that they’re a “good fit” for our lodge. The men we bring in almost invariably stay for life, and even if they’ve moved away they maintain a dual membership with our lodge, and we generally are all close friends.
While this sounds perfect, please note there are issues here as well. Our lodge is fighting to maintain our current membership levels. Our rate of attrition is growing annually, and while the replacement members are generally younger, a time will come when we don’t have enough members left to maintain the lodge. Due to our low membership numbers, our funding is significantly more limited, and the much needed repairs that our building faces have to be much more carefully planned and executed.
Both styles have some great advantages, and both come with unique issues. I’ve heard from many brothers that after ten years in the Craft, how you came in makes no difference in the level of education and involvement you find from these brothers, and I believe this to be true. One of my dearest brothers was the “victim” of a Blue Lightning class, and continues to be active in Masonry many, many years later.
There must be a happy middle ground somewhere; where we bring in a reasonable number of new members, enough to show positive growth across the fraternity, but bring in only those who will be active and involved, and who will give back for all that we have given them.
This is the point where a very smart, traditional author will offer the solution he has been carefully leading you to. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. Believe me, if I did, I would sell the secret to every lodge in the world, and retire early, knowing I had done something great for the craft.
If there is an answer, I think it must come from blending the best of both methodologies, while removing those parts that detract from the overall goal. For lodges that take a shotgun approach, consider slowing down a bit, being more selective in who you choose, and forcing your candidates to receive their degrees the “hard” way. For those lodges who are taking more of a sniper rifle approach, consider opening up to more new members, take a few more risks with your candidates, and you may be happily surprised by both the quality and quantity of new men you receive.
Sometimes, simple awareness of a problem is enough to help you on the path to fix it, and in that I am in hopes that this short article will help your lodge to identify how they view candidates, and more importantly, what steps they can take to improve the functioning of your lodge.
Bro. Adam Thayer is the Junior Warden of Lancaster Lodge No 54 in Lincoln (NE) and the Worshipful Master of Oliver Lodge No. 38 in Seward (NE). He’s an active member of the Scottish Rite, and Knight Master of the Lincoln Valley Knights of Saint Andrew. Adam serves on the Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org