Freemasonry does very little to no talent development. For an organization that claims to take good men and make them better, that’s a pretty damning statement. However, I stand by it. In Business, talent development refers to the organizational processes designed to attract, develop, motivate, and retain productive, engaged employees. If a business is to succeed, it has to do this and put a lot of effort into doing this. Otherwise, they will see a large turnover of employees. What is Freemasonry doing to attract, develop, motivate, and retain members? In my own personal experience, very little. Is it any wonder we are struggling with getting new members and retaining the ones we have?
What is Freemasonry doing to attract members? In business, a value proposition is an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers. For our Fraternity, it should show what Freemasonry will do for each man individually or why a man should choose Freemasonry over another community organization. While we shouldn’t be joining Freemasonry for mercenary motives, we should be doing a better job of selling ourselves. Instead of saying: “We take good men and make them better”, our value proposition should be listing what we will do to make you a better man and how it relates to the individual.
Until very recently, we relied on campaigns like 2BE1ASK1, and other outdated methods to try to gain membership. In fact, until three Masonic appendant governing bodies, namely the NMJ and SMJ of the AASR and Shiner’s International, decided to sponsor beafreemason.org, there was very little effort put forth in order to attract membership. My Grand Lodge, has an invitation to petition program, but it is not used to its full effectiveness nor is it really being pushed by them as a program that Lodges should be using. Lodges should be using this program to have its members identify their friends, neighbors, and other members of the community that would be active and engaged members. As part of this process, once the invitation is accepted, we should be giving a value proposition for the prospective members. We can no longer rely on our history or reputation as an organization to be an effective recruitment tool.
At my last meeting at St. Joseph #970, as Worshipful Master, I had six "invitation to petition" forms submitted and read, which will be voted on at our next stated meeting. Assuming the vote for these members is favorable, it is my plan to write each of the prospective members a letter, along with a value proposition about how I think Freemasonry can benefit them. I also encouraged members to think about men that they know and encouraged them to do the same. St. Joseph has not had a new member in over two years. If we do not bring in new active and engaged members, we need to seriously start to consider consolidating with another lodge. We continue to lose members due to having them move away from the area, or by having some pass away, and we are not gaining new members to replace that attrition. I doubt that we are the only lodge to experience this problem.
What is Freemasonry doing to develop members? It is my opinion that we are doing very little. Time and time again, Education is not given the same importance as other items on the meeting agenda. My girlfriend Lisa, who is the incoming Chair for the National Advisors for Chapters and an incoming board member on the Board of Directors for the Association of Talent Development, retweeted this today: "Learning shouldn't be begging for a place at the table, it should be setting the menu." Truer words have never been spoken. Masonic Education should be the highlight of our stated meetings, not an afterthought. Apparently, the majority of us would rather spend a meeting debating how many rolls of toilet paper to buy or (insert your own trivial matter of business) over actually working to improve ourselves. How in the heck does this make us better men? It doesn't. The ugly truth of the matter is that:
We also fail when it comes to mentoring. In Illinois, we have something called the intender program. Under this program, each candidate is assigned an experienced Freemason to help them learn their catechisms and to help them through their degrees. I have seen time and time again where the experienced Freemason stops mentoring the individual who is their candidate once that candidate is raised as a Master Mason. This needs to stop. It seems that we’ve forgotten our obligations to aid and support our brethren. When was the last time that you offered to help another member of your lodge with their ritual and floor work outside of a meeting? Or invited them to coffee for a discussion? Or generally, tried to get to know them? Are you taking an active role in trying to mentor and help develop the talents of your brethren? Yes, there might be times where the other member might be unwilling to accept your help or overtures of friendship. In these cases, make sure you’re setting the right example for them to follow. Mentoring another member can be both active and passive.
How many of you have a formal or informal degree team in your area? All of the members of the “team” are the ones called are always called upon to put on degrees, and it’s always the same brothers doing the same parts in the same degrees night after night. This is problematic because the members of the “team” aren’t usually trying to mentor the members that are not on the “team” and they are not encouraging them to learn parts or participate in the degrees. The members that want to learn parts and become members of the “team” often aren’t making their desires known to the degree “team” members. Essentially, a situation is created where you have a small number of people doing work, and because of the perceived clique of “team” members, other members feel that they are not encouraged to learn and participate or feel that they don’t need to learn or participate, because the degree “team” members have it covered. In my particular district, you have some older members of the “team” and when they pass away, there is no one to step up and fill that void. This is just one example of where we are failing to help to develop talent, but also where we have no succession plan in place.
What is Freemasonry doing to motivate and retain members? Our wages of corn, wine, and oil don’t seem to be bringing members to lodge, nor are they helping us retain our members. There have been multiple times where I’ve seen an enthusiastic new Master Mason be forced into a chair due to not having enough active and engaged membership, have them not be given proper instruction about what to do, and then have them approached by a grumpy past master after the meeting who tells them what they did wrong. Is it any wonder we continue to raise candidates and never see them return to lodge? I’ll also take the opportunity to highlight the times as an Area Education Officer, where I’ve seen educational programs ridiculed because the majority of brethren don’t want to take the time to explore our mysteries and symbols. They only seem to care about the stated meeting when they have something to complain about. However, once they’ve decided that they’re done complaining, they want to get the meeting over with. Then they might adjourn to the bar across the street, no doubt to complain about everything they disagreed within the meeting with their fellow complainers. In business, an employee acting like this would be reprimanded, maybe even terminated, for creating a hostile work environment. However, in Freemasonry, it seems to be the norm.
Another major reason for this is that our stated meetings are not run efficiently. In fact, I would argue that the current model of stated meetings is completely and utterly outdated. In my mind, the one thing that the pandemic has proven is that a stated meeting no longer is necessary to handle a majority of the business of the lodge. Almost all of the business can be handled either through email or via a short zoom/skype/webex/google meeting between the members. We need to make a change in the way that we handle business in order to compete for the attention of our members in the current day and age. We are competing with social media, streaming services, sports (our children’s and professional), and other organizations like a church or school board that our members might belong to. If we want to compete, we need to change the way we handle our business.
In changing the way that business is handled, we can free up time during our stated meeting nights that were previously used for business to focus on personal development. You know, actually doing the work of making good men better, instead of just saying that we do. We can use the time to implement skill development workshops, where we can teach leadership, grooming, public speaking, budgeting/personal finance, listening, and believe it or not, learning how to be more sensitive and empathetic. We can also use the time to improve ourselves in Masonry, with Masonic Education programs and working on ritual and floor work. Comradery needs to be built between the members of the lodge so that actually enjoy each other’s company, and want to seek more of it. This can be accomplished by holding festive boards or participating in other activities where the brethren can interact in a social setting outside of the lodge room on stated meeting nights. It seems to be beyond the realm of my comprehension to imagine a time where I could open St. Joseph #970 for a meeting, have a short meeting (15 – 20 minutes max), close the meeting and then adjourn to a festive board, or have the programs like what I mentioned above. Unfortunately, as long as we continue to have poorly run, long, boring, and sometimes toxic meetings, we will continue to lose members.
Not only that, many of us that are providing the energy and manpower to a lodge have become disheartened and unmotivated. I deal with this feeling more than I would like to admit when it comes to Freemasonry. Not only do the above examples show why we are failing to retain members, but also some of the reasons why many of us are becoming unmotivated. Couple this with the ways in which I see brethren mistreat each other within the lodge and on social media. We no longer seem to be practicing the tenet of Brotherly Love. Unfortunately, the Lodge room, which is a place that I consider to be a sacred space (which should be devoid of politics or religion at all times, not just when the gavel has sounded), is no longer sacred to brethren. It seems that many of the brethren have decided that they don’t get enough discussion of these divisive topics on social media, and they need to engage in the same rhetoric within a lodge room. Many of us, myself included, are left bewildered by this when we try to speak good counsel to our brethren and we’re told that the gavel hasn’t sounded, so they can discuss whatever they want. Apparently, I missed the section in the lectures in my degrees that instructed us only to practice Freemasonry between the gavels. Is it any wonder that many of us are lacking motivation, or that we cannot retain our new members?
How do we change this? Freemasonry is local. Ultimately, you can only impact what is happening at your local lodge. Here are some things that you can do to help change your lodge culture and start to develop talent.
1. You need to have allies. If you’re the only one in your lodge that wants to change things, things will not change. You need to have enough brethren on your side to be able to implement change. You need to make sure that all of you have the same vision, and goals. Without this, you will not be able to implement programs to help develop the talents of or educate the brethren within your lodge.
2. You and your allies need to act as role models and mentors. Survey your membership and identify where there are mentorship possibilities, and connect mentors with mentees. Be sure to set an example for the brethren in your lodge.
3. Build a process to support development. Implement programs to help develop the talents of brethren in your lodge. Prioritize lodge education in the meetings. Reduce the waste of meetings so that there is time for these processes.
4. Reinforce our shared values. Remind the brethren why talent development is an important part of taking a good man and making him better. Help the brethren understand why this important and how it will help not only attract but retain members. Use your allies to implement lodge bi-laws to make changes permanent.
5. Be adaptable. Each lodge is unique and has a unique culture. What works for one lodge, might not work for another. Keep trying different approaches to development. Don’t give up when one thing doesn’t work. Note the things that are successful in your programs and the things that are not. Learn from your experiences.
The choice is yours. You can either help be the change or slowly watch your lodge die. I know what I am going to choose.