The North Star Program

A Solution to the Masonic Membership Problem

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

"There is a great hunger in the souls of men today --- a lack and want that neither food, clothes, or shelter can fill. If Masonry is to save itself, it must be trying to satisfy this want. In my own town, with my own eyes I have seen it. (I) Have seen a Masonic college professor lecture night after night to an audience of three hundred brethren --- men from all walks of life --- they were all there, and they simply ate up that "high-brow" stuff and called for more. They sat over an hour, hearing him talk about such a thing as the 'Psychology of Architecture'. And the discussion and live debate that followed, the interest and enthusiasm that were shown --- and the new friends that were made --- and out of it all there has grown a great revival of Masonry throughout the community" --- The American-Tyler Keystone, February, 1922

It’s almost refreshing to read the desire for education in Lodge meetings. Our declining membership numbers, and challenges in engaging Brothers within the Craft are as old as Freemasonry itself. While it seems that in recent years with more voices rising to spotlight speaking to these problems, we would have an idea or solution. Grand Lodges in two jurisdictions, Michigan and New York, have worked together to present the North Star program to address the issue of membership retention. RW Daniel DiNatale, a member of the Grand Lodge of New York's North Star project, simplified their findings, "Men are less likely to leave a Lodge when they are more invested."

Brother DiNatalae describes himself as one of the first wave of millennials to petition a Masonic Lodge. "I was raised in March of my 21st birthday," he shared. Four years later, he served as Master of his Lodge. "I was in a class of one, in a Lodge where the next person was 30 years older than me. The only reason I joined was because someone saw something in me and wanted me to be better than myself." One of the first Masons Bro. DiNatale met in Western New York was Grand Master of New York Masons, Jeffrey M. Williamson, who had been following a trend in the Erie Masonic District. "Members were forming Traditional observance Lodges out of Lodges that were slowly fading." The evidence was clear, today’s Masons seek meetings that focus on escoterics and learning, rather than business and finances.

Instead of reinventing Lodges, an idea was proposed on how to improve them. 

"That's when we heard about the '7 Steps of Masonry' program that the Grand Lodge of Michigan had started. We took their ideas and brought them back to Buffalo," noted Bro. DiNatale. The Grand Lodge of Michigan had to address membership retention to survive. Flint, Michigan was their case study. The city of Flint had a population of just over 400,000 people in 2010 and was a very active community. When their economic downturn started in the mid 2000’s, the city became known for high-crime rates, a bad water supply, and was under a state of emergency. These factors created a domino effect and led to several Lodge closures due to a decline of membership. "They dropped to like three Lodges and needed to produce a quick solution." Their solution was to provide a structured coaching model along with a very active digital marketing component, creating an online awareness advertising campaign that addressed their sagging membership development. "They showed how to connect online interest with local Lodges," said Bro. DiNatale. The lessons learned in Michigan helped the New York Brothers find additional areas in improving the Masonic experience; Masonry needed to become “a way of life,” not just for prospects but for current members as well.

Creating Value in Membership

The original New York North Star committee met for five days to write the project. They proposed that instead of a giving a interested man a petition on his first visit to a Lodge, the Lodge would voluntarily follow a series of steps to slow down the steps leading to initiation. They used a Success Coaching system, where Petitioners would be paired with a seasoned Brother of the Lodge, who would meet with them before his petition is completed. The process would allow both the perspective candidate and mentor time to address the basics of Freemasonry, addressing and setting the expectation level from both the Lodge and the candidate. When followed, the steps could be completed in a month or less, creating value in becoming a Mason.

It should be noted that the Success Coach remains partnered with his Petitioner through each degree, following his Master Mason’s degree, meeting with him on the first anniversary of his membership as a Master Mason.

"Before they were allowed to ask for a petition we wanted a proactive step to analyze a gentleman on a self-written narrative without violating the Constitution of the Lodge," added Bro. DiNatale. The Letter of Introspection was an addition they New York project proposed. It allows for more constitutionally submitted information from the applicant to the Lodge. The candidate answers questions like, “What did you learn from your family that makes you the man you are today?” “What are some of your strengths and what would you like to improve about yourself?” “Every person has a personal code or philosophy they live by. What is yours?” And my favorite, “What do you expect from Freemasonry?

As a Master Mason, how many gentlemen have you balloted on where you can say you were 100% certain of the Petitioner's name, vocation, or interest in joining a Lodge? This voluntairy letter serves as the candidate’s narrative to all members of the Lodge.

Two years ago, I became North Star program certified for my jurisdiction. During the one-day training, it was instantly clear to me that creating value in membership is missed when we rush to hand a petition to the first man who asks for one. Outside of being able to find a Lodge, what do we really know about this man? I recalled my application process: starting with a search online to contact my mother lodge, I attended a "prospect" meeting where we watched a video on Masonry (a CBS news story), were allowed to ask questions, and had a group discussion over pizza and beer. By the end of the evening, I was offered a petition. Only after I filled out my application did I begin researching Freemasonry with a deeper, more intent interest.

Guarding the West Gate 

In the first meeting under the North Star program, the mentor discussed the required background check known as the Guarding the West Gate report. The Grand Lodge of New York now requires that a Petitioner provide a copy of a recent background review report attached to their petition when seeking membership to a Lodge. As RW Pat Imbimbo, Guarding the West Gate (GTWG) Advisory Committee Chairman, puts it, “Our purpose is to assist the Investigation Committee with their duties.” There are two items that immediately disqualify Petitioners from Masonry: registered on the sex offender database or lying on a petition.

This is where the GWTG program is helpful. The background check is paid for by the Petitioner, the report is sent to them, not the Lodge. Red Flag (felony convictions, violent offenders, sexual related offenses) items trigger emails to the Grand Secretary who communicates the warning to the Master and Secretary of the Lodge. Out of the 1860 reports conducted since 2016, only 60 were red flagged. It then becomes the Petitioner’s decision, not the Lodge’s, to pursue his application. If he chooses to continue, the Secretary of the Lodge will record that the review was completed, hand the paperwork back to the gentleman, and the Investigation Committee can discuss the particulars of the incident with the Petitoner.

Personally, I have had a one of these rare conversations with Petitioners. One gentleman chose to withdraw his petition after he revealed that he was less than forthcoming with the details of an arrest and conviction of a violent crime left off his petition. In the end, we discussed that he hold his petition until his legal matters were cleared but continue to come to Lodge dinners and events as a guest. The goal of the GTWG process is to maintain the sanctity of Freemasonry in an digital age where information and records are accessible. Most Petitioners receive a report that is only a page or two, present them to the Secretary of the Lodge in a sealed envelope, and continue advancing through the North Star program steps to their first degree.

Improving the Masonic Experience 

One stat that floored me during my North Star training is that the average Mason demits or disengages from a Lodge within three to five years after being raised. I didn’t believe it at first but then I thought of Brothers from my class who were raised, came to meetings that first year, started attending less frequently over time, and haven’t been back in over a year. Sadly, these are the names that are read by the Secretary for “NPD.” These men simply lost interest.

We promise men the opportunity to make themselves better, they spend months learning our ritual, only to attend meetings that are absent of education and enlightenment.

The numbers speak for themselves, since 1924 the Masonic Service Association has compiled the totals of Master Masons in the United States Grand Lodges. According to M.S.A. records, 1959 was the "high point" of members with 4.1 million Masons in America. Last year was the "lowest point" with 1,076,626 Masons. Over 59 years we have lost 3,026,535 members. In my state (New York) alone, we have lost 1,799 members in 2016 reporting just 33,595 members last year. There are many factors in declining membership: the baby boomer generation, changes in the modern American lifestyle, additional community/service organizations... but perhaps we must face the reality that the title of “Freemason” has lost it's value over time with less engaged, less motivated members.

You can improve the Masonic Experience at your Lodge by creating meetings that matter. Work with your Master to engage Brothers with compelling discussions and programs on his Trestleboard. It is possible to create those moments of “live debate, interest and enthusiasm, and new friendship” that we all seek. Recognize and acknowledge your newly raised Brothers along with your seasoned members with special anniversary ceremonies during stated communications. And most importantly, help Petitioners find the Lodge that is the right fit for their expectations and interests.

Our heritage is inexhaustible in interest, life-long in it’s appeal, with a power to enrich your life.” Lodge System of Masonic Education 


Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at:

1 comment:

  1. Delighted to learn that such a thing as a Millennial Freemason exists. I wonder, though, about my own generation--what are the numbers on Gen-Xers in Freemasonry? I'm hoping they're decent; it was *our* Grandpas and Uncles that were in the Craft (less so our boomer dads).


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