Regardless of the reasons why a Brother chooses to stop attending Lodge, I will say that at least half the blame for allowing this Brother to walk away from the Craft lays squarely on the Lodge and the members that do regularly attend. Yes, that is a blanket statement that you can write down, take to the bank or use as the basis for your hate mail. I really don't care. In my opinion, it is the truth. I will get to the specifics that prove my point in a second. If your Lodge has living Brethren that nobody has met or Brethren that have not been to a Stated Communication in 5 to 10 years or if your Lodge has Brethren that just one active member would not know if they passed them on the street, you, the Officers and every single member of your Lodge has failed the Lodge, the Brethren of the Craft and your obligations. Now, before you "Past McWorshipfuls" (Yes, I am coining a new term... Past McWorshipful, I will define this at the end of the article) jump on me and tell me all your wonderful rhetoric about how awesome you are and how many people you brought into the Craft during your year, let me stop you before you even inhale to bloviate.
Just because you are the "next guy" moving up the chairs has no bearing on your actual ability to be an effective Leader. Whether your Lodge actually elects its Officers based upon their merits or just pushes the next new guy up the line of chairs, unless that person going to the South, West or East is actually "worthy" of the responsibility and has done some deeper research into the lessons of the Craft Lodge, they shouldn't get voted up.
During each Raising, the Candidate is not the only person taking an obligation. The Lodge as a whole is given a Charge. When it comes to a Brother failing to return to Lodge, I think that the Leadership has failed to cultivate the tenants of the Craft. I say that we have all failed to use the Trowel to spread the cement of Brotherly Love. The Lodge has not pondered well their actions or energies. What do our grips, signs, words, tokens or even the penalties mean if there is nobody left to care?
So the question isn't "why didn't they come back?” The reason isn’t "this wasn't what they were looking for.” The real question is, “what did you or your Lodge do to keep them coming back?” Where did the Lodge fail to recognize the Brother's needs or wants? Does your Lodge unlock their doors 10 minutes prior to the gavel falling and have a race to see if the door can be locked before the last light goes out? Do you only meet once a month? Why not once a week? Do you make a meal at the Lodge before meetings or meet down the block at a restaurant to promote some Brotherhood before or after Lodge? Wait, what? After Lodge? Yes! After Lodge you can actually go out and relax as a group! Get a beer, have a cigar, sit in the library of your building to expand on education or anything to build that bond that only time together builds.
Do you have the same people on your investigation committees when you receive a new petition? Did those people ever ask a potential Candidate what they were looking to get out of Freemasonry? Was the Lodge they were petitioning the best fit? Would it be best for them to find a Lodge with younger, more active people? Perhaps they would be best suited to a Lodge closer to work or to home? I get it, sometimes it is feast or famine and you have removed the black cubes from the ballot box because you will take anyone at this point just to maintain your Charter. But seriously, drop the "you get out what you put in it" stuff and ask them, “what do YOU want or expect from Freemasonry?”
If your Lodge is not active in the community ask yourselves why. You can get yourself out there with a hotdog cart during the parades in town. Sponsoring something during a local event, anything. When you give out a scholarship, do you get a picture taken with the recipient and make a big deal about it in the paper and issue a press release? Sponsor other local non-profits and allow them to use your space. Maybe even offer to serve dinner at their event.
Do you know where your appendant bodies are located and who the contact people are? What about the youth organizations? Can you direct a Brother to the closest Lodge of Research? How many have even heard of a Traditional Observance Lodge? What does your Lodge offer for the kids or the Ladies?
There are many more ways for the Lodge to have failed the Brother, than the Brother fail the Craft. Have you reached out to your membership that is less active and asked them why they don't come around? Maybe they just can't drive anymore at night and need a ride, but didn't want to be a bother to anyone. We will never know unless we ask. We will never be able to help our disheartened Brethren find their way back to the Craft until we can, are ready to, ask the hard questions and be willing to listen and affect change on our end to entice them back.
Past McWorshipful: noun; A Past McWorshipful is a Master Mason that has been Initiated, Passed & Raised then made his way to the East in under 5 years. I feel that it just isn't right to fast track your way to the leadership role until you have had sufficient time to actually "understand" the Craft and prove yourself worthy in both character and education, to be the one that is looked to for leadership.