A global review of lodge models clearly shows there are two foundational principles of success in sustaining a long term positive growth in membership.
First, we must be committed to the idea that all Masonry is local.
Lodges (individual governing units) may be ruled by a set of codes and laws which are enforced by Grand Lodges (state governing units); but these rules have been enacted by the lodges themselves, acting collectively for the good of the whole. Thus, it has always been the lodge which determines the rules. It is good to recall that lodges existed for more than a century before the first Grand Lodge was formed in 1717. The foundation of Masonry has always been the lodge itself. It either thrives or dies based almost wholly on the vision and attitudes of its own members.
This is the way it has always been.
Second, we must understand that the sovereignty of Masonry is with the lodge. Grand Lodges may have dozens of rules prohibiting this and that in regard to member behavior, rights of entry, lodge procedures, and ritual ceremonies. But again, these rules, whatever they may be, have at one time in the past been authorized by the lodges themselves, acting on behalf of the collective good of the Order. Grand Lodges exist to preserve harmony over the global culture of Masonry; and to serve the constituent and sovereign lodges within the geographic boundaries of their state or province. It is important to note that everything otherwise legal, moral or ethical that is not prohibited in Masonry; is permitted.
These two foundational principles, then, ensure that all lodges have an equal opportunity to succeed. The outcome is left to the virtues of leadership, ability, vision, relationship, and action.
If we can agree the above two principles have validity in Masonry, then a worldwide review of lodge practices calls me to suggest there are also two exemplars of governmental success, at least in the American Masonic culture today.
There are thriving lodges in America who stay focused on delivering Masonry with a well-rounded agenda. These lodges characteristically provide accurate ritual work, measurable charitable activities, visible community services, regular family and social activities, and a meaningful fraternal experience for their members. Successful lodges do this consistently year after year. Such fraternal associations are often well known in the community largely because the lodge is an integral part of it. And in such lodges, many of the members are known in town not only as good community volunteers, but also as Masons. Lodges that are increasing in membership in the United States typically do the things mentioned above better than most. Successful lodges also do these things better than other community organizations which otherwise compete for a man’s time.
The second model of success is the lodge that is focused only on Masonry as a place where personal, fraternal and spiritual growth may occur; one in which meaningful tools for personal improvement and spiritual development are consistently delivered to members in a private sanctuary of brotherhood month after month.
Such lodges are centered on what we call the “inner work,” in which the appeal is wholly fraternal and carried out in privacy, with little public visibility. This is the model which has proven most successful in many foreign jurisdictions. In America, we think of these as “traditional practices” lodges in the sense that the traditions derive from lodges which predate the typical historical American timetable. Many of these lodges have sustained a 3% annual rate of growth over many decades.
We should be fully supporting and encouraging both models of success for the overall American culture. The one brings us public presence, image, and credibility; the other fulfills the expectations of many younger men (those born after 1975) who want to be on the journey of self-development and improvement.
Both models offer the right kind of patriarchy and role modeling which can guide men to mature and manly judgment. Both follow a time-tested path toward truth and authenticity. Both are nurturing and fulfilling to the male psyche.
In the academic studies I’ve read concerning the needs of men in today’s society, the lodge that is centered on education, spiritual development, role modeling and fraternal bonding may be the most powerfully compelling organization to join in America for men who fall with the 19 to 40 age range. When such a venue exists for men in every community, everyone benefits.
Those who seek these things in their own life will always be welcome in our classic “Men’s House”—the manly and sacred space of lodge; where together we lead each other to our own transformation and rebirth.