First and foremost, if the public doesn’t know we exist, how can we hope to gain new members? In 2004, the Masonic Service Association of North America tackled the problem of Public Awareness and moving Masonry into the 21stcentury (http://www.msana.com/downloads/abouttime.pdf). Although I might not agree with all the points made in the report, I still think it features a lot of good information that was relevant then and is still relevant. The report summarized the lack of awareness of Masonry as such: “Masons are not visible in the daily life of their communities. Their identity is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and by religious critics. There is little reserve of positive memories of Masonic activity remaining in our communities. Within eye and ear range of the public, Masons have failed to perform what they profess; consequently, they have lost their significance within the context of community.”
Speaking from my own experiences as a Worshipful Master, one of the main problems that exist at the local lodge level is the engagement of its own membership when it comes to trying to do community outreach. When you have say 10 - 20 members that are fairly active in the lodge, meaning that they occasionally or always show up for meetings, but only 2 of them show up for events that you’ve planned and the membership has voted in favor of at a meeting; then it’s no wonder that we aren’t visible. Even when we do something that should gain some community visibility, like when we give out a Community Builder’s award where the lodge selects a local citizen that has impacted the lives of much of the community and holds a dinner in their honor, we’re not capitalizing on the opportunities that it presents. The lodge might be posting it on social media, but we’re not inviting the rest of the community to celebrate the achievement. The lodge hosts the honorees family and lodge members at a local restaurant, when it should be having the dinner at the local lodge, and it should be inviting the public to dine with them, and it should be using the opportunity to show off the lodge and to gain potential membership. Such an event shouldn’t be happening once a year. The lodge should be doing community events on a monthly basis. However, when you’re not doing anything, or only doing something once a year, it’s no wonder that people don’t know we still exist.
Secondly, we have an identity problem. We’ve all heard the mantras, “Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” or “We make good men better.”, but that doesn’t quite explain to the average man what we really are about. Reliance on a catchphrases to bring in potential members doesn’t convey what we as an organization are trying to accomplish. In fact, I think it is a banal attempt at marketing ourselves. If you want people to know you exist as an organization, the organization needs to be actively marketing itself and it has to agree on a definition of what it wants to represent. We can’t expect bumper stickers that say: “2B1Ask1” to send potential members to our doors. We can’t continue to take a passive approach and expect our membership numbers to reverse, we need to actively market ourselves and what we represent.
As the MSANA report states: “Under perfect circumstances, the public would know Masons according to the following observable accomplishments:
- Building community based on shared Masonic values
- Constructing a positive environment for personal growth
- Encouraging education, idea sharing, and open discussion
- Welcoming diversity across religious denominations, ethnicity and age
- Growing leadership ability
- Establishing the relevance of Masonic values to contemporary life
- Advocating concern for the well-being of other Masons and their families
Ideally, Masons would be defined as members of a fraternity, which fits the following descriptions:
- Masonry is a serious men’s organization, dedicated to self-improvement coupled with community involvement.
- Masonry is a provider of camaraderie, trust in each other, instant fellowship, and brotherhood.
- Masonry brings together a group of people who emphasize individual excellence.
- Masonry is a provider of an atmosphere of inclusiveness.”
How do we as a fraternity convey the above ideas to the public? We need to start actively promoting the above ideas via a mass marketing campaign sponsored by each individual state’s Grand Lodge but also at a grass roots level by each individual lodge. At the state level, I’m talking newspaper adverts, radio and television advertisements, as well as ads on Social Media and the internet. At the local level, lodges need to show themselves as an active force in the community, as well as using social media to promote and advertise our lodges. As the MSANA report states: “Freemasonry’s significance to our culture is timeless and offers a major stabilizing influence within our communities. The Masonic identity needs to be understood and observed by the following:
- The general public, specifically the individuals who seek knowledge about themselves and their humanity
- Our existing members
- Potential members who need information about the fraternity’s benefits
- Members of the media community
- Religious leaders who need to understand the distinction between Masonry and religion
- Civic leaders”
The only way to make all of the above parties understand our identity is to market it to them. Yes, I’m discussing an expenditure of a substantial amount of money, however I believe that we are at the point where the old adage, “You need to spend money to make money.” applies. If our Grand Lodges want to remain in existence and reverse the trend of declining membership, we need abandon the old idea that we can’t or shouldn’t actively market ourselves. I’m not saying that we need to stop guarding the West Gate, we need to make sure that is still done, however we need to make ourselves known so that more men will at least approach it.
Furthermore, as part of this advertising, we need to stress how important the below values are for men today. As the MSANA report says when discussing the benefits of Freemasonry in the 21st century world: “Masonry offers an opportunity for a principled way of life rooted in the following Masonic values:
Masons are men who build community through brotherhood that is based on a principled lifestyle. A Mason’s life is deeply rooted in a system of values. Masonry cannot be kept inside the individual; it is a philosophy of fraternity that must be shared in action through numerous experiences, which are lodge-based, personal, and professional.“
I would substitute personal development in place of inquiry. I don’t see the act of asking for information as being one of our values. Instead, I see personal development more in line with our values. Personal Development covers the activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations. I personally have observed in my children a lack of certain life skills, for example, although I’ve shown him numerous times, I doubt highly that my 18 year old son could change a tire. As another example, my 16 year old son can’t cook a simple meal for himself. Sure he can microwave a meal, boil an egg, and do other simple kitchen tasks, but if I asked him to cook me a hamburger or pancake for instance, there’s a good chance that he couldn’t do it. Freemasonry can be marketed in such a way to younger generations to show them that Masonry can help teach them these life skills, either from the experience of being with older men who know these things, or by outright setting up workshops to teach them.
One thing that the MSANA report points out which we need to use to our advantage in marketing is what they call tangible and intangible resources. The report states: “Our Masonic resources are great! Our resource management skills are rusty.” Personally, I couldn’t agree more. To be honest, I never thought much about the great number of resources we have at our disposal as a fraternity. According to the report:
- "Tangible resources may include the following:
- Existing physical structures
- Network of over one and one-half million Masonic members
- Extensive North American geographic coverage
- Lodge facilities with their community centrality—kitchens, libraries, collections, artifacts, exhibits, archives
- Existing programs
- Masonic clinics and hospitals
- Current Masonic publications
- Phone and e-mail networks
- Lodge-based websites
- Financial assets (even if limited)
- Contemporary books and films
Also consider the following examples of intangible resources:
- Our good name for doing good works
- Centuries of history in multiple countries
- Individual talents of each brother
- Historical and contemporary cultural associations
- Community relationships
- Family links
- Educational and arts partnerships
- A legacy of leadership
- Respected values system
- Tradition of diversity
- Opportunities for self-improvement
- Recent positive media exposure through books and films
- Community history”
Having so many strong resources at our disposal, we should be able to use them to recruit new members. However, once again, it requires a buy in from all of our membership. Lodges that sit empty except for the nights of their stated meetings are doomed to fail. We need to use our lodges for more than Masonic activities. We need to turn them into communal spaces, where other local organizations can meet in peace and harmony. Forming lasting and strong relationships with organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, Parent Teacher Associations, Rotary Club, among others. This can only help give the local lodge positive PR and word of mouth advertising, but maybe also help in recruitment. Men who sit month after month in a lodge room during a PTA, BSA or Rotary Meeting can’t help but wonder what goes on in that room during a Masonic Meeting, and then due to natural curiosity will want to know more.
Ultimately, the onus is on each and every one of us to advertise Freemasonry. We need to make sure that in our actions that we are setting an example for other men to follow. We need to make sure that our words, both verbal and written are carefully chosen. We must be what we promote ourselves to be. When we wear the square and compass, we must be sure to act according to what they represent. Most importantly, we must make sure that we are as a fraternity adding value to men’s lives. As the MSANA’s reports call to action states: “Now, we must move forward both individually and fraternally. We encourage you to think carefully about how you invest your time, which is everyone’s most valuable asset, and we ask that you use your time on programs and actions that are uniquely Masonic. As we work together, we must ask each other how a program, a meeting, or an event improves and demonstrates our experience of being a Mason. We have not a moment to lose.” We need to make sure that people are aware that we’re still here, and most importantly, that we’re not planning on going anywhere.
WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.