As members of the Freemasonic Fraternity, one of our constant worries seems to pivot around the notion of membership drives, membership retention… membership- “whatever’s”! I have, and a great many others, written and spoken at length about the need to; more or less, let membership come as it may, and that to try to too hard… well, by trying to hard we might not be attracting the “right” Candidates anyhow. But, that doesn’t mean that we stop trying. In the words of financial acquaintance of mine- you don’t try or even work harder, you only try to work wiser.
If wiser work should be our goal, then I am reminded of an exercise in marketing strategy, that plays off of child-like, and therefore, very recognizable and comfortable games. In short, they were exercise in which a teacher or member of the class would begin writing a sentence on the blackboard, and would intentionally leave KEY WORDS, usually descriptive… blank!
As a demonstration: “I joined Freemasonry because it possessed ______________, and I was attracted to that. In turn, there must be others in our community who desire to feel the same desire to find ____________ and as such, it is our collective duty as Masons to demonstrate that the Masonic Lodge is the most likely place for them to find it”.
Simple. Fill in the blanks. What do people want? What did you want” What were YOU looking for and hoping that YOU would find behind the tiled door of the Lodge room?
If all were to split into groups of 4-5 and rehearsed the paragraph/word game together, I am certain that all would have different words which he might insert into the blanks. We all had different expectations and thought that the Fraternity embodied certain ideals… each one different yet still equally important. Indeed, our individual expectations speak directly to our individuality as a whole and help to make Freemasonry the well-rounded Institution that it is today. And yet, each answer or word will be a bit different for any prospective Candidate as it was for us.
This, Brethren, is the challenge. While it is true that good Ritual and all that goes with a strong and well-founded Lodge are key, the key to attracting members is to know what they want, and to then offer an environment that offers it to them. Thus following, if their expectations are met (within reason), the issue of retention becomes a moot point, for all are satisfied in the experience.
And still, this is easier said than done.
Our Organization is a solid one, and one with Landmarks which do not bend; with Ritual that cannot be altered; we have long standing traditions and they do not bend. All of this is true. But, our Landmarks encompass a great many things, and exclude few; our Ritual has no need to be altered, for it respects the entire human species; and our traditions are long standing because they are firmly rooted in the bedrock that predates all else! As such, our Institution is perfectly capable of accommodating the wishes, the desires, and the expectations of almost anybody- if they are agreeable to the few precepts that define our criteria for membership.
With this in mind, perhaps we should no longer ask “what can WE do to attract and retain members”, but instead suggest that we have already done so. The house is already planned, the Temple already built! All that remains is for those without, for those beyond the West gate and looking inward to ask themselves- what do they desire? Do they want to be better men? Petition a Lodge. Would you like to further your spiritual development and gain more insight into the human condition? Petition a Lodge. Would you like to learn the Secrets of the Universe that only Masons possess??? Well, if that be your wish… Petition a Lodge.
Am I being facetious? No, I am not. I am being, perhaps for the first time in a long time, practical in my approach. You see, Masonry is not the same for you as it is for me, and it’s not the same for me as it will be for the next. As such, while I may write essays and expositions here and there, it is not for me- or for anybody- to tell others what their Masonic experience will be like… for that will be up to them! It will be their own Masonic experience and may be as esoteric or as simple as one desires. All that is demanded of us, as Masons, is to elect able men into our midst and to then direct them to the Volume of Sacred Law open on the Masonic Altar, so that they might direct their thoughts and actions accordingly.
That’s it. The rest is up to the Initiate and Brethren.
In general conversation, mention what Masonry is to you. Then ASK your prospect what he may think Masonry could hold for him. IF he is interested at all, he will have already formulated some questions and begun to imagine filling in some “blanks”. It might behoove all of us to then suggest that he drop by Lodge and discuss things a bit further, with a Petition being even further down the line. No one wants to be hit up with a Petition and demand of payment of dues at the first meeting. However, once he finds that Masonry most likely has something of interest to him, and visits a Lodge full of hustle and bustle, he’ll not need much convincing. Especially… MOST especially IF– he is as intrigued as you were by the “blanks” that you filled in.
Talk candidly and openly, casually, and ask some open ended questions; allow his imagination to take hold; let your friend and possibly future Brother to create and then fill in his own “blanks”… These are his points of interest and might not necessarily be yours; but- that does not make them unimportant. Quite the contrary: what is today unknown and unimportant to those within Lodge may very well be the key that unlocks the door for the membership of tomorrow.
“I am curious to know if Freemasonry involves __________________, because that is something that I would really be interested in.”
That blank space in the sentence is all that it took for me to join… and to stay!