Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Missing the Mark: Why Didn't They Come Back?


Why do candidates fail to advance after becoming Entered Apprentices? Answers to this question can provide much information which helps to understand the problems of declining membership and lack of interest in the activities of a Masonic lodge.

The question has been frequently answered by guess work or snap judgments. Recently, however, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin undertook a serious study to find factual answers to the question. A Research Committee headed by Past Grand Master Edward W. Stegner sent out a questionnaire to 729 "defaulted Entered Apprentices" to learn the reasons for their failure to advance.

To the concerned Mason, there is much food for thought in this report.

The questionnaire was sent to each individual with a letter over the Grand Master's signature, with a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the reply. Of the 729 men contacted, 204, 28%, returned the questionnaire - a surprisingly large response for such an inquiry. Even more significant is the fact the 190 responders signed the questionnaire, although that was optional. 155, or 77%, made personal comments or suggestions, which indicates that one out of five of the defaulted Apprentices still had considerable interest in the fraternal organization he had become a part of if briefly.

Do you feel you had sufficient direct personal contact with members of the Lodge prior to the acceptance of your petition?
(80% ) -sufficient
(14%) -insufficient
(21/2 %) - made comments

Do you feel you had sufficient direct personal contact with members of the Lodge between your acceptance and initiation?
(83 % ) - sufficient 24
(12 % ) - insufficient
(1 % ) - made comments

What was the attitude of the Masonic Brethren to you?
(83 %) generally positive and accepting
(2 %) generally neutral
( 8.3 %) generally negative
1 - made a comment

Were you able to identify with the Masonic Fraternity?
(40%) - Yes, enthusiastically
(42%) - Yes, generally
(15%) -No strong feeling
(3%) - Negative
(1% ) - Made comments

What were your feelings about the teachings of Freemasonry?
(70% ) - generally understood 
(22 % ) -generally vague 
(4% ) - no strong feeling 
(2 % ) -made comments

What problems did you encounter in completing the degree work? (Number in order of importance. Add any in unmarked spaces.) (The following numbers indicate the frequency with which the problems were ranked first. )
(55%) -time involved
(30 % ) -memorization
(14%) - other activities
(12%) - business or profession
(7 1/4 % ) - personal attitude
(5 % ) - family

(Other problems added to the list)
14- "lost interest
1O - mentioned "work." Same as business?
3 - entered the Armed Forces
9 - objected to the "posting" (choice of lodge)
7 - mentioned "health"

Do you hold membership in other civic or fraternal organizations?
12 (6 %) were Elks
9 (4 1/2 %) American Legion
6 (3 %) Lions
4 were members of the Junior Chamber of Commerce; 
3, of the V.F.W.; 2, were Moose; and I each of the Eagles or Knights of Pythias.
(Over 20%)

In summary what is reflected is that it only takes a small amount of negative contact and lack of communication to lose members at this stage. Fifteen percent of people feeling that there was a negative or cold reception, fifteen percent more who feel that there was a negative or cold follow up and lines of communication outside of the lodge...  These quickly add up to loss of members. 

What is also obvious is that people have competing requirements on their time, effort and resources in their lives. Most seem to feel that Freemasonry was irrelevant to their work, their daily associations and their family.

Many expressed that they were posted with people whom they had no affinity with.  Freemasonry was once built around lodges of people with shared affinity, friendships and business relationships outside of the lodge.  The new lodge culture, subsidiaries of Grand Lodge Incorporated, a top down structure, seems to be exactly the opposite of the old lodges with affinities and overlapping relationships and relevance to all facets of life, and this new lodge structure obviously turns people off and turns them away.

A very large number of people did not see the "point" of Freemasonry or were vague at best and many also did not see or accept the point of rote memorization.  Those who did understand seemed to feel that Freemasonry as it was presented was irrelevant to them and their lives.  This is a huge point since Freemasonry is essentially very personal and also very much molded by the experience and culture of the lodge.  

Many new men did not see that they had either personal affinity or a place in the lodge nor did were they presented with something in the wide world of Masonic thought and interests that could be personally attractive or interesting to them.

The largest loss even then is the matter of TIME.  Freemasons have often countered that the problem with the Craft is that it is not as time intensive as it once was.  Everything that people seem to say is that the BIGGEST PROBLEM is just the opposite- it is too time intensive and is seem as delivering nothing relevant to the rest of the life and priorities of the individual. Pointless ritualized business meetings is not a good investment of time.

Intelligent men with full lives are not going to pay and spend valuable time to be part of something that they feel they do not understand, and they see as offering them nothing in their internal, social, professional or familial lives. If they do only a few will even dream of coming back and giving it another try at cost. This is perfectly understandable.  This is why only one of five of the obviously good willed and responders gave their advice for a change in the Craft and expressed their feelings but ultimately said, "No thanks."

Many of these men were fraternal and community involved men by disposition and activity so the idea that the men were the problem is simply not true.  Nor is the problem our times or the alignment of the stars or any other thing outside of our control.  After 400 years we know that Freemasonry cannot be the problem, inasmuch as it is the same that it once was (and there is every indication that it is not). The Craft has changed but has not responded to the needs and concerns of people today. The true problem lies within those of us who now mold the Craft.