Vol. XLIII No. 9 — September 1965

“. . . Members Were Present”

Conrad Hahn

The summer recess is over. Secretaries are busy again, keeping the minutes of meetings up-to-date. For each communication they will put a number in the blank space of the sentence that forms our title, or make note of the register that lists those in attendance.

If the number present is compared with the total membership of the lodge, it’s a rather safe bet that it won’t be one hundred percent. Most lodges have “absentee members” who live far away. Some have so many members that they couldn’t meet in their lawful places if every brother did show up for a meeting! The blunt truth of the matter is that ten percent would be a peak attendance for many a lodge of Master Masons.

Those remarks could become a springboard for lamentation, scolding, or prophecies of gloom. This Short Talk Bulletin, however, has been prepared for the worshipful master who has really accepted the responsibility of leadership, who wants to do something about the attendance problem. He is not only willing to commit himself to some purposeful action to “get results”; he is also realist enough to know that mere numbers is not the criterion of success, and that whatever enthusiasm and activity he may stimulate, it must be Masonically motivated and Masonically effective. He knows that his lodge will benefit more if he can get ten members to become faithfully active in the labors of the lodge than to give the brethren one big “wing ding” during the year to which as many as forty or fifty percent of the membership is enticed. He doesn’t waste time on impossible dreams of one hundred percent attendance at the average meeting.

He will have surveyed, or begin to study immediately, the materials available in his own lodge describing activities and programs that have helped to increase attendance at meetings in the past. Among such resource materials are the minutes of the lodge, programs of special events, and all bulletins and service letters from the grand lodge committee on information or Masonic education that have been preserved in the archives of the lodge. He will have a planning session with the officers and past masters, to pool ideas and to evaluate suggestions. Most important of all, he will set them to work on a personnel inventory, in which every member will be studied as a potential worker to promote the activities of the lodge. Such a “talent survey" should be made on individual cards and carefully preserved in the records of the lodge, so that it can be re-worked and added to each year.

This brother may be a “one shot” performer; that one maybe a steady worker for “the long pull.” This one may be a good examiner-salesman for an investigating committee; that one may be an eager ritualist who needs a part in the degree work to keep him actively interested. Another may be a “born teacher” who would be glad to give five minute Masonic talks for good and wholesome instruction. Even the infrequent attendee can be given some "homework,” by having him serve on a telephone committee to call a small list of members to remind them of the meetings.

When the entire membership has been evaluated in this way, as many as possible should be considered for specific assignments, among which the most important for increasing lodge attendance will be the chairmen of committees for special events and programs. Again, the wise master will remember that many of these individuals will have to be “sold,” and that one hundred percent acceptance of the assignments is also an impossible dream. He will have second and third choices in mind.

The sojourning Mason needs special attention. Many of them would become enthusiastic participants in lodge activities if they were really encouraged. Families move frequently in this Age of Space. Many Masons are living far from their mother lodges.

A survey should be made of these potential attendees. It may take a bit of “digging” to find them all, but some members with sales or public relations experience will know how to get in touch with such brethren.

Next, if he hasn’t already done so, the master will contact his grand lodge committee on information, education, or attendance, to see what materials are available from them for program devices and suggestions for improving attendance. This is especially needful if his predecessors have not been careful to preserve such materials in the archives of the lodge. An inquiry to the grand secretary will usually put a master in touch with the qualified committee, if he doesn't have that information available in his own lodge.

The well-informed master will remember that there are other sources for materials of this nature, among them The Masonic Service Association of the United States in Washington, D.C. One of the reasons this agency of Freemasonry was established by American grand lodges is to develop and publish useful educational materials for the Craft; it is supported by the member grand lodges for this purpose so that the publications may be available at cost. A study of the free catalogs of the Association shows a number of useful pamphlets dealing with “the attendance problem.” One is entitled “Special Events in Lodge”; another is The Short Talk Bulletin of October 1928, “Increasing Lodge Attendance.” (The problem isn’t new!)

In addition to some practical suggestions about selecting program committees and putting them to work, this Short Talk describes a number of special events that can be used to increase lodge attendance. Among them are a “surprise meeting,” a Masonic experience meeting, a lodge debate, a “Tell us what you think” program, a "question box,” a musical presentation featuring the songs of Masonry, a “stunt night,” and other more familiar programs like past masters’ night.

Among recent publications that deal with programming as a stimulus to lodge attendance, the 1965 Report of the Committee on Lodge Attendance of the Grand Lodge of New York is noteworthy.

This Bulletin furnishes a condensation of that report. All its essential ideas and suggestions, however, are included.

Pointing out that the members of the committee had attended many area or district meetings, as well as regular communications of constituent lodges; the committee was able to assure the representatives at grand lodge that some lodges had made significant improvement in attendance because they had conscientiously and enthusiastically followed the committee’s suggestions in “Our 10 Point Program.”

The committee emphasized the fundamental importance of planning. “No Masonic lodge will have many members in attendance unless the meeting is arranged in advance, definitely planned and definitely publicized to the last detail.” The members of the lodge should know in advance what’s going to happen.

The New York 10 Point Program is as follows:

  1. A plan for each communication.
  2. Make every meeting a night of interest. (Suggested programs are available from the grand lodge committee on Masonic education and lodge service.)
  3. Publicize every meeting in advance. Also have a publicity committee report the activities to local media of communication.
  4. Appoint an attendance committee to follow up absentees. Be sure that regular visits are made to the sick, crippled, aged, shut-ins, and sojourning Masons in your jurisdiction.
  5. Plan activities to give every sideliner something to do. He’ll develop the feeling that he has a special reason for going to lodge. If he cannot take part in the ritual work, make him part of a project.
  6. Plan special occasions, like Birthdays, Old Timers’ Presentations, etc.
  7. Plan social programs to include families, and ladies nights. Organize a blood bank or similar service project.
  8. Always start meetings on time. Keep the meetings short, including special programs. Let those who want to go home early succeed, while others may remain to enjoy a social evening.
  9. Exemplify the work with dignity, seriousness, sincerity and correctness. Brethren interested in degree work won’t come out for sloppy performances.
  10. Develop pride in the officers of the lodge and an understanding of the important and necessary duties of each. Officers should work as a team.

One of the valuable techniques suggested by the committee on lodge attendance was the evaluation of results, to determine some of the outcomes of definitely planned meetings. For this purpose the committee suggested some test questions to "gauge your own performance.”

Some of these deal with "intangibles,” which are nevertheless very important in measuring the Masonic effectiveness of a lodges activities: Is there at your meetings a spirit of friendship so real that you feel it the moment you enter the room? Are you interested in each brother’s presence, not merely because he adds to your attendance statistics, but because you are glad to see him and visit with him, and because you would really miss him if he wasn’t there? Do you know the interests of each member, and are you always ready to share in his problems? Are you concerned with the welfare of every brother and his family? Are the activities and conduct of your members such that Masonry is respected and honored in your community? A master has to acquire such information and to develop such a spirit if he wants brethren to come to lodge to experience the satisfactions of "the mystic tie.”

Some of the questions are directed to more practical measurement of results; but the knowledge supplied by the answers will naturally contribute to the development of some of the “intangible” outcomes: How many members of your lodge need help in order to attend meetings? How many could and would come if they were reminded or asked? Are you utilizing the talents of every member in some activity? Do the officers perform the ritualistic work accurately and with dignity? Do their exemplifications convey the real spirit of Freemasonry? Does an audience enjoy their performances? Are your other programs interesting and stimulating, or were those present relieved that the meeting ended?

Emphasis was placed throughout the report on the master’s responsibility to plan each meeting carefully and to recognize his responsibility for lodge attendance by aiming his programs at the interests of his brethren. "Attendance can be improved only if every master gives it the serious thought and effort it deserves.”

However, the wise master will never sacrifice quality and genuine Masonry in his programming merely to get a good turn-out to one or two meetings. He will ever remember the charge to keep the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied. He will consider the Ancient Charges as the landmarks within which his activities must be bound. As a truly speculative master, he will he guided by his knowledge that Freemasonry is a spiritual, educational, and benevolent association, whose purposes are primarily constructive and uplifting. Sociability, he knows, will harmonize the labors of a lodge of Master Masons; but sociability cannot be programmed merely for itself.

His programs, therefore, will reflect the basic ideals and purposes of the Craft: to instruct, to inform, and to inspire his brethren; to develop their capacity and understanding for benevolence and charity; and to make them individually happier by making them wiser about friendship, morality, and brotherly love. Festive and social events have a place in those Masonic objectives; but they will be Masonically effective only if they reinforce the basic goals ofthe Craft.

As Carl H. Claudy said in The Master's Book many years ago,

One thing and only one thing a Masonic lodge can give its members which they can get nowhere else in the world. That one thing is Masonry. . . . The master whose entertainment program is strictly Masonic has to send to the basement for extra chairs for most of his meetings.

Brother Claudy not only said it; he proved it, for during his years as master of his lodge in Washington, D.C., he planned and carried out so many stimulating Masonic programs for his brethren that the “Standing Room Only” sign had to be put up more often than not. He also insisted that "attendance is the responsibility of the worshipful master.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America