Shortly after I published my first book in 2007, I was invited by a Lodge to come and speak about it at their regularly stated meeting. I agreed. The meeting started at 7, and they dined at the Lodge at 6:30. The downside was that the Lodge was two hours away.
I had to leave work early to get there by 6:30 and I got turned around and wound up getting there a little later than I planned—about 6:45. But that wasn’t a problem, because there wasn’t anybody there yet. So I sat in the parking lot and waited, and about the time I was thinking I’d written down the wrong night, the first car pulled in at a little after 7.
Now when I was told the Lodge members dined at the Lodge at 6:30, what they meant, is that they all go individually to their favorite fast food restaurant, order food, and then eat it together at the Lodge. I hadn’t had anything to eat since about 11:30 that morning, but I sat there and watched them devour their cheeseburgers and tacos--the Master didn't think I'd have time to run and get something and eat it before they were done and opened the Lodge.
The Lodge opened about a half an hour late, and we got right into the meeting. They were having a good time, but I’d never been more bored. It was a ninety minute long gossip session. They talked about their inept local school board. They talked about the township not cleaning out the storm drains. They talked about the pastor’s wife’s sister’s son-in-law with the drinking problem. There was in that ninety-minute discussion one issue relating to Freemasonry and Lodge business that caught my attention—I’ll tell you about that in a minute.
At a little after nine o’clock, the Master glanced at his watch, and said, “oh, dear, we’ve run a bit late tonight. I’m afraid we won’t have time for Bro. Creason’s talk. Maybe he'll come back next month and give it to us. Would you like to at least tell the Lodge where they can buy your book before we proceed to close.”
I didn’t say anything. I did as I was asked and told the members of that Lodge where they could buy my book. I didn’t mention I hadn’t eaten all day. I didn’t mention I’d left work early. I didn’t mention I’d spend two or three hours on my presentation. I didn’t mention I’d driven two hours. I didn’t even get mad when the Master asked if I’d be willing to donate a copy of my book to their library shelf. It’s probably still there. By the time I stopped and got something to eat on my way home, it was nearly midnight when I rolled in my driveway. My drive home still holds a world record for the longest continuous bout of cursing in modern history.
As I said, there was one short discussion during that meeting that caught my attention. They were talking about their two new Master Masons. These two and gone through the degrees together, and after they were raised a few months earlier they’d only attended one or two meetings, and nobody had seen them since. They weren't even returning calls.
Now don't you find that odd?
That’s really when things clicked with me. That’s when I first became interested in “enhancing the member experience” and began writing about it, and began setting about actually doing it in my own Lodges—and we have a lot people in my area interested in this same topic now. And there’s a lot of really interesting work being done to this end.
The problem so many Lodges have, is they go about things completely backwards. You’ve got to start with building your infrastructure. If you want to build your Lodge, you have to really take a hard look at your Lodge. What do you want to accomplish? What are your goals as a Lodge? What would a new member enjoy about your Lodge? Why are perspective members interested in joining your Lodge? What do they hope to gain, and does that exist in your Lodge. If you want to build and grow your Lodge, you have to build it first. You have to be ready for those new members when they arrive. If you don’t fix what’s wrong with your Lodge first, those new members won’t still be there by the time you figure that out.
But I can tell you without hesitation that nobody joins this Fraternity to attend a monthly meeting. Nobody. They do join for reasons, and you have to figure out what those are, and find ways to fulfill those needs. Friendship. Fellowship. Community Service. Personal Growth. Knowledge. Skills. There are many reasons why men come to us, and as we’ve been learning in my part of the world, building this infrastructure not only helps retain new members, but it also engages our long-time members as well—I’ve seen many go from grumpy Past Masters to mentors, teachers, and trainers. And some of our biggest critics in the beginning when we were trying to improve our Lodges--well, many of them are our biggest fans now.
We've spent a great deal of time finding ways to keep our business meetings short and on point. We have education presentations every single meeting, and we start with those! I make notes when I see members of my Lodge looking at their watches, or glancing at the clock to see what's going on in the Lodge that has them bored. We have great discussions. We have guests come and speak to our Lodge from outside groups. We learn things about our community, and we learn things about each other. And we invite other Lodges to join us--and very often they do! And these experiments that started in our Lodge have spread, and other Lodges are doing some interesting things as well. I hope to share a guest post at some point from a member of another Lodge near mine that tells the story of his Lodge's journey from ordinary to extraordinary.
If your Lodge is having problems with attracting new members or retaining your old members, it's most likely not them. The best place to start looking is at what you're doing in your Lodge.
Todd E. Creason, 33° is an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the the From Labor To Refreshment blog. He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary. He is a a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR). He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as Excellent High Priest of that Chapter. He serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F.&A.M. as the Eastern Area Education Officer. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org