Why can't we convince Gen-Z to join Freemasonry? You won't like the answer.

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

I should have made about 1,500 copies of this meme and distributed them to every brother coming into our Grand Lodge sessions last week. Even though I knew pretty much what the outcome was going to be, I still left disappointed in my brethren. This session was no exception. There were several amendments to our Constitution and Bylaws which were up for a vote and were designed to codify the open and inclusive nature of Freemasonry.  One of which wanted to change our Code Section 280 here in Illinois.  The code currently reads: Masonry knows no distinction of race or color. It is the mental, moral, and physical qualifications of the man that are to be considered.  The amendment would have changed this to read:  Masonry knows no distinction of race, color, or sexual orientation. It is the mental, moral, and physical qualifications of the man that are to be considered.  

One would think that the vote would be affirmative.  I mean, isn't it implicit that Freemasonry shouldn't care about sexual orientation?  Even the Grand Lodge Committee on Legislation recommended the adoption of the legislation, which they stated was consistent with the open and inclusive nature of our fraternity.  Allow me to set the scene for what transpired. 

For each piece of legislation, the rules governing the order of business for our Grand Lodge sessions allow a total of six speakers to voice their support or dissent.  Each speaker has two minutes each.  There were arguments for and against, and then the last speaker (who had also spoken for or against all of the other amendments, most likely because it gave him a feeling of importance to hear his own voice through a microphone) began to speak against the amendment.  It was at this time, that things took a turn for the worse. 

The speaker started out with a coherent response until he didn't.  He saw it as an opportunity to launch into a transphobic rant.  Looking around in disbelief, and not seeing any action being taken, I had to yell at the top of my lungs at our Grandmaster to attempt to get him to take action  Yes, in complete disregard for Masonic etiquette, which I greatly regret.  I stood up from my seat towards the back of the large ballroom we occupied and yelled at the top of my lungs: "Grandmaster, this is political.  This is political!"   To which the brother at the microphone yelled back: "It is not political!"  To which I replied: "Yes, it is!"  At this point, the brother left the microphone, shaking his head in disbelief.  However, when it was all said and done, the vote failed. 

In fact, an amendment to give a Worshipful Master latitude to use the appropriate term for someone's Volume of Sacred Law instead of the Bible failed.  Another amendment would have added a section of code that stated that any Mason who was a member of or espouses the cause of any organization advocating the overthrow of the government of the United States by force of other illegal means shall, upon Masonic Trial and conviction thereof, be expelled. The code also added that such would be a disqualification for initiation in or affiliation with a lodge of Master Masons.  This amendment was specifically designed because of a particular incident where a police officer in Chicago was publically identified as a member of the Proud Boys and was shown wearing a Square and Compass on his shirt in pictures disseminated throughout the media.  He is still, to my knowledge, a member of a constituent lodge or lodges under the Grand Lodge of Illinois.           

Now given the amendments above, and my reaction to the brother, you might be asking why I didn't yell that they were also "Political".  My definition of the discussion being political is where a brother is incapable of stating his own opinion and instead regurgitates the opinions of others. Usually, this is either the talking heads of whatever news they subscribe to or the ideology of their political party.  Yet while I agree with and support amendments and language in an attempt to make Freemasonry more inclusive, I realize that to many brethren (which is not pronounced as "brothern", my brothers) these amendments are considered “woke”.  

My good friend, brother, and one of the hosts of the Masonic podcast, Meet, Act, and Part (shameless plug), Bill Hosler, wrote what I consider to be the definitive one on this subject. Bill and I are ideologically opposed politically, though we agree on the idea that “woke” is a made-up term.  We are both against the influence of religion and politics inside of Freemasonry. However, I want to share a quote from the article which is: What many of these young people are calling “being woke” here in the last few years.  We collectively have been calling it “Freemasonry.” In any case, I urge you to click on the link above to read the article in its entirety.

Why do I bring this up? Because it relates directly to my point. I'm going to address only Gen-Z in this article. Allow me to answer. Both of my sons are Gen-Z. I'm Gen-X. Neither of my sons has any interest in Freemasonry. When I ask them why, the answers are sometimes varied, but it's mostly due to a perception that Freemasonry is archaic. They are also at the age in their early twenties where they do not want to be like their father. I can accept that rebellious spirit. They also brought up how we claim to be inclusive, but yet we have Grand Lodges that are homophobic and racist in their views. They don't understand Masonic Jurisdictions, and in their mind, if one Grand Lodge is doing something, then that is the whole of Freemasonry. Of course, I don't pressure them to join. If they at some point decide to come of their own free will and accord, then I will be ecstatic, but if not, I understand that as well. Freemasonry is not for everyone, and every man doesn't deserve to be a Freemason. This being said, we still need to look at our future and try to market Freemasonry to Gen-Z. Why is Gen-Z important in terms of Freemasonry's survival?

We have an aging membership. In most Grand Lodges, we are losing more members than we are bringing in. My Grand Lodge likes to show their pride and state that they are currently the 4th largest Grand Lodge in the United States. Now, I have no idea how we count our membership numbers, but our Grand Lodge website states that we have 45,000 members. I tend to believe that these numbers are inflated. For example, I belong to 2 lodges and I hold honorary membership in two others. I'm most likely being counted 4 times instead of one time. There are men I know who hold honorary memberships in multiple lodges. Given this, I would tend to believe that we're closer to 20,000 members. We might be below, or maybe we're above. Again, I don't know if I'm correct in my assumption. I'm just stating that there's no transparency on how these numbers are counted. But for the sake of consistency, I will use the 45000 member number. According to the number of members reported in March of 2017 on the George Washington Memorial website, we had over 65000 members. But to simplify the math, we will say we had exactly 65000 members. In the span of Five and a half years, Illinois has lost 20,000 members, which comes out to 3636 members per year. Assuming negative net growth, if the decline remains constant at 3636 members per year, membership in Illinois will be 0 in Twelve and a half years.

Now, of course, we know that the decline isn't going to remain constant. In twelve and a half years I will be sixty-two years old. Barring my suspension or expulsion, I will still be a Freemason at that time. However, what the numbers do illustrate is that we're going to see the landscape of Freemasonry change. We may be down to a handful of lodges in the state. Using another Fraternal organization that I'm a member of as a basis, the Grand Lodge of Illinois for the International Order of Odd Fellows has 48 lodges in the state of Illinois. If I had to guess, the membership is below 5000 members (again, a guess). In any case, if we want to have Freemasonry continue to survive, we will need to find a way to market Freemasonry to the Gen-Z generation and those coming after them.

Generation Z, is the youngest, most ethnically-diverse, and largest generation in American history, comprising 27% of the US population. Pew Research recently defined Gen Z as anyone born 1997 onwards. Gen Z grew up with technology, the internet, and social media, which sometimes causes them to be stereotyped as tech-addicted, anti-social, or “social justice warriors.”1  Millennials and Gen Z are far less likely than older generations to identify with any organized religion and far more likely (especially in Gen Z) to identify as LGBTQ.2  

The average Gen Z got their first smartphone just before their 12th birthday. They communicate primarily through social media and texts, and spend as much time on their phones as older generations do watching television.  The majority of Gen Zs prefer streaming services to traditional cable, as well as getting snackable content they can get on their phones and computers. In terms of US population by generation, Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse and largest generation in American history, and eclipses all other generations before it in embracing diversity and inclusion.3

From a marketing perspective, A 2022 survey by Morning Consult found that 54% of Gen Zers said they spend at least four hours daily on social media, and 38% spend even more time than that. Their most used social platforms are YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.  They are saving more, thrifting, and decidedly not purchasing from companies that don’t reflect their values. Furthermore, The vast majority of Gen Z respondents reported that authenticity is more important than any other personal value tested, including spending time on things that will help their futures, independence, changing the world, and being rich or famous.  More than half of Gen Zs are more worried about others being treated badly than nearly every other topic surveyed, including getting a good job, paying for college, discrimination toward themselves, or their own relationships with significant others.5

Now let's discuss what's been called the loneliness epidemic in America.  It has become so important that the US Surgeon General released a report on it earlier this year. The main takeaways of the report are: 

Humans are wired for social connection, but we’ve become more isolated over time

Social connection significantly improves the health and well-being of all individuals

Social connection is vital to community health and success

Together, we can advance social connection and improve our nation’s public health

The study states that lacking social connection is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day from a health standpoint.  Furthermore, Gen-Z seems to be hit the hardest by this epidemic based on multiple pre and post-pandemic surveys.  Many of them are spending money to join various clubs to meet friends according to a recent article.6 They also seem to be looking for mentors.7

Given all of the above, you might reason that Gen-Z should be knocking our doors down.  As an organization, we claim to be one where men of all faiths, color, and backgrounds are welcome.  This should appeal to their embrace of diversity and inclusion, right?  Not to mention all of the older men that could be mentors for them.  Also, since we don't require a specific religious belief to join, only a belief in a higher power, Freemasonry should be attractive to them as they don't identify with organized religion, and we are not a religion.  We are not supposed to discuss politics or religion in the lodge which should aid the attraction. However, this is not going to be the case unless we make wholesale changes to how we act as individual members of Freemasonry, how we act as an organization, and how we market ourselves to this generation.

It goes without saying that Freemasonry is resistant to change.  As mentioned above, we as an organization need to make wholesale changes to how we portray Freemasonry and how we act as individuals and an organization.  As stated above, authenticity is more important to Gen-Z than any other value. 

When we claim to promote values (Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth) as an organization but we have a majority of our membership that isn't living by these values, do you think we are authentic as an organization?  One thing that I didn't mention but is alluded to above is who Gen-Z turns to when they need to research something.  It should not be any surprise that they turn to the internet.  Now if I'm super internet-savvy like this Gen-Z,  I'm going to go to the internet and search for Freemasonry in the state I'm in.  This should inevitably bring me to that particular state's Grand Lodge webpage or a local lodge webpage.  Listed on the webpage will be the names of the Grand Lodge Officers or the Local Lodge officers.  Another search of the names of each individual and the addition of (insert your social media choice here) as a search term might lead me to their individual social media pages, assuming they're not concerned about privacy and don't have them locked down.  Now, all it takes is one social media post that is contrary to any of the values that Freemasonry promotes, and you can kiss that potential member goodbye.  

But let's say on the off chance, we still manage to have a Gen-Z potential candidate visit the lodge.  We invite him to dinner before lodge in the lodge building.  No one makes an effort to talk to him, or when they do, they do so to try to engage him in a political or religious discussion they're having.  Yes, those two things we aren't supposed to discuss in Lodge.  I know what you're thinking, you're not in Lodge if you're at Dinner.  You're right, but maybe we shouldn't discuss these things at Dinner?  I can't imagine how a potential Gen-Z candidate, who has had to endure multiple active shooter drills from elementary school up through High School, is going to react to a bunch of older men bemoaning gun control.  I'm being kind with using this as an example of discussions I've heard.  Let's just say that I've lost a lot of respect for some members of the fraternity, over their complete inability to keep their mouths shut about things that shouldn't be discussed in a Lodge building and prejudices that absolutely have no place in Freemasonry.

Our degree obligations are full of references to swearing not to give away any of the secret arts, parts, or points of a particular degree.  Brethren seem to be able to be quiet when it comes to the modes of recognition, but we can't hold our tongues about those things we are not supposed to be discussing?  I mean if you can't find anything else to talk about with your brethren, then can you at least wait until the meeting or degree is over so you can go out to the parking lot and have these discussions?  

How about we engage in discussions about what we can be doing to help the community we're in or we spend the time calling brethren that we've not seen at a stated meeting or degree to see how they're doing?  Maybe if we actually practice Freemasonry authentically then we might have a chance to win Gen-Z over?  Heck, this is stuff we should be doing anyway. It's certainly a better use of our time than getting angry over things that we don't have control over, but that the news tells us we should be angry about and ranting about it at dinner. Let's actually live our tenets for a change.  Let's practice what we preach.  Let's practice Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth in our daily lives as individual members of Freemasonry, or as I like to say, practice empathy, be compassionate towards others, and remember that truth without compassion is cruelty.  

This leads me to how we act as an organization.  Fundamentally, as an organization we are the sum of how our membership acts. It always saddens me at every Grand Lodge session when they publish the felonies that the now-expelled former members have committed.  It just goes to further the idea that we need to guard the West Gate strongly.  It also means that we have to understand that the quality of our membership is more important to our survival than a massive quantity of members. Most importantly, Grand Lodges must adopt this philosophy.     
As for our Constitution and Bylaws, we wouldn't need to add inclusive language to them if the membership adhered to what I laid out above. Because we don't seem to, or at least our individual Grand Lodges don't seem to hold their own lodges and other Masonic jurisdictions accountable for not doing so, we are guilty by our association.  Grand Lodges withhold recognition from Foreign Jurisdictions all of the time that are judged to be irregular in their practice.  We have domestic jurisdictions that continue to withhold recognition of Prince Hall Affiliated Freemasonry, and others that have codified language that bans men who are openly homosexual from joining, as well as suspending or expelling members who are. Grand Lodges should be withholding recognition of these domestic Grand Lodges as irregular in their practice as well.  If we want to claim authenticity, then our Grand Lodges must have their public actions and statements back them up.

Lastly, we need to discuss how we market the Craft to Gen-Z.  First of all, we can't rely on old surveys to determine what these young men are looking for.  Case in point, my Grand Lodge jurisdiction finally hired a marketing firm.   However, when our membership chairman presented an overview of the new marketing program, a few things stood out to me.   

Our Grand Lodge is basing its strategy for its marketing campaign on the NMJ survey from 2016 to market to men today.  At this point, assuming Gen-Z starts in 1997, the youngest members of Gen-Z would have been 18 or 19.  This survey was only given to men who were ages (21-65).I would state that we should give the survey again, but we should give it to men who are going to be the future of Freemasonry.  Instead of ages (21-65), we should be giving it to Demolay-aged boys to the age (12 to 21) up to Gen-Z and Millenial-aged men (up to the age of 42).  These men are the future of Freemasonry.  These are the men we should be marketing the Craft to, and these are the men whose opinions should be shaping strategies for marketing.

We need to tailor our marketing to this target audience! Facebook is for OLD PEOPLE.  One of the goals that our membership chairman laid out was getting, if I recall correctly, 10k followers on Facebook and 5k on Linkedin.  I'm not sure if these are metrics given by the marketing firm that we hired, or arbitrary numbers that were decided upon, but Facebook likes are not a true indicator of the popularity of something.  In fact, I'd personally question the qualifications of a marketing firm that would suggest these social media platforms.  If we're looking to try to land more Gen-X and Boomer members, then sure.  However, any marketing firm worth its value is going to tell you that those demographics are not who you should be targeting.

The Gen-Z and Millenial crowd (with the exception of the older millennials) are not using Facebook or Linkedin (for that matter) all that often, if at all.  If we want to market Freemasonry to Gen-Z, then we need to be looking at YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.Grand Lodges need to get with the times and hire (yes I said hire), social media managers and identify our membership in the Gen-Z demographic that they should approach to work with these social media managers to produce authentic social media content for the platforms listed above.   Or better yet, hire one of these younger Master Masons to be the social media manager.  Again, Gen-Z can smell insincerity a mile away, so we need to be on point with our social media marketing.  We need to create Masonic influencers in the Gen-Z demographic who can best exemplify our inclusivity as an organization. 

Influencer marketing is prominent across social media platforms, and the data shows that Gen Z is much more likely to be influenced by social media. Gen Z adults are 10 percentage points more likely than Millennials to say they’ve purchased a product in the past six months because an influencer/blogger recommended it on social media (29% vs. 19%). A possible reason for this distinction is that Gen Z is more likely to say they trust social media influencers and are much more likely to follow content creators online.10  

Currently, TikTok has a few "prominent" (I use this term very loosely) content providers, but the problem is that they're probably doing more harm to the craft than being helpful.  They are giving their own flavor of Freemasonry, and quite frankly many of them are completely uneducated about Freemasonry's origins, history, customs, and rituals, and give incorrect or incomplete information when asked questions about Freemasonry when they go "Live".  There is a strong need for professionally curated content on this platform, and I believe that the Grand Lodges harness the power of popular social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Reels, Instagram, etc to advertise and promote Freemasonry to Gen-Z will begin to see an increase in membership in this demographic.

If we want to market to men of the Gen-Z generation, then Grand Lodges need to highlight their members of that demographic.  We must empower them.  To be honest, a perfect thing to do from a marketing perspective in my jurisdiction would be to highlight the young men who opened this year's Grand Lodge in Illinois.  These young men are all from Gen Z and they are both members of DeMolay and are Master Masons.  While we can't show them actively opening the session, we can highlight each of them by interviewing them and asking them to tell their own authentic stories about their Masonic experiences.  These young men need to be our spokesmen to their generation.  They are the ones best equipped to communicate with other young men.  Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millenials need not apply.

We must curate and vet all of the materials we are using in our Marketing campaigns.  Case in point, asking a potential Gen-Z candidate to read a short talk bulletin from 1954 that calls men of the Islamic Faith "Mohemmedans" is probably not going to have the desired outcome that we want it to have.  It's an insulting term to people of the Islamic Faith. This same short talk bulletin makes several completely false historical facts, especially when it comes to Freemasonry and its influence on the Revolutionary War, but I find its pride in how the Vigilantes of Montana being formed in a Masonic Lodge especially troubling.  Twenty-One people were murdered by these vigilantes in what is described as "a terroristic orgy that bypassed anything and everything resembling due process — no trials, no judges, no juries, and not even death in the usual manner, hanging, but, so as to get the maximum deterrent effect from each murder, by strangulation."11  This is hardly something that our Masonic Fraternity should be proud of, even if they accomplished securing Gold for the Union Cause.  If we want to portray our history, we should be authentic.  I'm not advocating hiding Masonic History from a Gen-Z candidate. I'm stating that we need to make sure that the materials we're using to market Freemasonry are not offensive and are viewing Masonic History from our current perspective, not from a 1954 viewpoint.

We can no longer be afraid of change as an organization and we must have Leadership that is not afraid to make changes.  We need to engage our youth and empower them to have a voice in our lodges and in our Grand Lodges and get their insight on what appeals to men of their age.  We need to have membership that is not afraid to vote for changes that will make our inclusivity codified in our rules, and leadership that is not afraid to voice support for such measures.  We must hold our membership accountable when they fail to live by our philosophies, either by whispering that wise counsel, or in extreme cases, having membership of constituent lodges be brave enough to bring their brothers up on Masonic Charges when they hold membership in organizations that hold philosophies directly counter to those that Freemasonry espouses.  We must be authentic, and we must at every level adopt the principles of an agile organization.   

If we continue to fail in doing this, we will continue to be judged as my Gen-Z children tell me, as archaic.  In my next article, I will discuss what we must do to make Freemasonry an agile organization, at the lodge level and Grand Lodge Level, and how in doing so, we might have a chance at retaining Gen-Z members once they join.   

1 https://www.insiderintelligence.com/insights/generation-z-facts/
2 https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/06/gen-z-millennials-vote-republican/674328/
5 https://www.ey.com/en_us/consulting/is-gen-z-the-spark-we-need-to-see-the-light-report/gen-z-finding-meaning
6 https://www.businessinsider.com/gen-z-loneliness-spends-money-to-make-friends-2023-9 
7 https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2023/01/26/mentoring-has-become-more-popular-so-why-gen-z-getting-less-it/11120823002/
8 https://scottishritenmj.org/path-forward
9 https://civicscience.com/3-key-social-media-trends-among-gen-z-and-millennials/
10 ibid
11 https://www.clevelandcivilwarroundtable.com/the-vigilantes-of-montana/


Darin Lahners is our Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast as well as a co-host of an all-things-paranormal podcast, "Beyond the 4th Veil." He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as a member of the Committee on Masonic Education He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s also a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine, and a grade one (Zelator) in the S.C.R.I.F. Prairieland College in Illinois. He is also a Fellow of the Illinois Lodge of Research. He was presented with the Torok Award from the Illinois Lodge of Research in 2021.

1 comment:

  1. the sad part is that it's a lost argument to have to start in a position of arguing "how we claim to be inclusive, but yet we have Grand Lodges that are homophobic and racist." 20 Years ago, like a off color joke, it was somewhat tolerated. Today? It's a lost argument to have to add a "but..." That's the problem with the wide swath of the fraternity, today. It's impossible to convince, entice or interest anyone, except for the wrong ones, to join on an ethos that's predicated on a "but."


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