Your Lodge has held Masonic Information Night. A few guests showed up, but they never return. They didn’t even fill out an information card so you could contact them later. As soon as the meeting was over, they shot out the door, never to be seen again.
Why is that?
Did you bother to do your homework, or do you just assume that declines in membership are normal and expected. Was your Masonic Information Night just so you could check off a box on your Masonic Year?
Here are the reasons why your membership declines, and why guests do not return:
Lodge Website. Freemasonry is a mystery to everyone who isn’t in the fraternity. There are tens of thousands of websites out there that post all kinds of nonsense about it. Your Lodge website is either bad or it doesn’t exist. While Freemasonry is steeped in history and legend, this is the 21st century; if you don’t have a website, your invited guests are going to rely on OTHER websites to get information about Freemasonry and YOUR Lodge. Do you really want David Icke or Alex Jones – neither of whom know anything at all about Freemasonry – to explain the fraternity? Get a website up and running and keep it current. All you need is a domain name, a copy of WordPress, and releases from your Lodge Officers who write in your Trestleboard so you can post their content online. Put up a calendar, let the community know what you’re doing and when, and your website will attract members. The very first Masonic website I built attracted 27 new members to my old Lodge over the course of two years, and attendance at our events doubled and even – in some cases – tripled.
Worn out facilities. Put your best face forward – clean up your Lodge! It doesn’t hurt to have a spring (and winter) cleaning! Make sure your Lodge is warm in winter and cool in summer! Put out trash cans and EMPTY them at the end of the evening. If you’ve got a kitchen, make sure everything works, the dishes are clean and the silverware is spotless! Get in your bathrooms and clean the urinals, stock the hand soap and paper towels, clean the toilets and – for gosh’s sake MAKE SURE YOUR PLUMBING IS WORKING. Nothing turns off a prospective candidate faster than using a restroom in a Lodge that is worse than the gas station bathroom down the street that hasn’t been cleaned since the Truman Administration. And, while we’re all guys, DO NOT forget to clean and freshen up the women’s restroom! When the candidate may be enthusiastic about joining, the wives or girlfriends are the ones who will ultimately make the decision for them. Make sure the Lodge is a place where everyone feels comfortable!
Poor signage. Freemasonry isn’t a secret society, nor is it a society with secrets. It’s a fraternity that exists and survives because people can find Lodges. Make sure your signage is clean, correct, and directs people to your building. And, while you’re at it, make sure the guests know where to park and where the entrance is. It doesn’t hurt to have a bulletin board that can be seen from outside the building listing upcoming events, either; you want people to attend, right? Let ‘em know where you are and what your Lodge is up to!
PMS (Past Master Syndrome). You’ve managed to get guests to show up. Now what? They’re in an unknown environment, they don’t know what to expect, and now the dreaded PMS takes hold. You know what PMS is: the know-it-alls – and it’s not just Past Masters who contract this dreaded disease. The members who “know” more than the guests, who giggle and talk about goat riding and “mysteries” and other absolute nonsense. Duct tape their mouths shut. Or – better yet – don’t invite them; they’re not Masons, they’re guys looking for lapel pins who think they’re better than everyone else because they’ve joined a so-called “secret society” that guests don’t know anything about. They’re not going to convince guests that Freemasonry is the world’s oldest social fraternity and largest philanthropy, they’re just going to alienate them and drive everyone out the door. Here’s how you combat PMS:
- DO NOT have any “secret insider language” or silly-assed references to things that don’t exist. While our rituals may be in legacy English, we don’t talk that way normally – and your guests most definitely don’t. Talk to them like you’re talking to a friend you’d like to invite over for a BBQ or a beer. These guests have the potential to be your brother. Treat them that way.
- DO NOT have ANY member ask any guest to move because they’re sitting in the member’s seat. EVERY guest should have preferred seating at any public event – especially on a Masonic information night. If you’d like to have guests sit in a specific area, then let them know that before hand – don’t make them get up and move once they’ve found a seat they feel comfortable sitting in.
- DO NOT let any guest sit alone; we’re a fraternity, act like you’re in one. Sit with the guests or invite them to a seat next to a member before they sit down. Freemasonry is all about who can best work and best agree. It’s all about camaraderie.
- DO NOT force your guests to introduce themselves; they don’t need to stand up, say their names, or participate. They’ve already made the effort; they’re here, in your Lodge. Make your guests more comfortable by having a social hour before your event.
Boring Event. If you have nothing to offer, then your guests will have no reason to return. Assemble a Masonic Information Night team. Get the youngest, the brightest, most personable, and most knowledgeable Masons in your Lodge together. You want to answer every question with an actual answer, not a “I don’t know” or a “I can’t tell you that, it’s a Masonic secret” non-answer. The secret to a great event is to make it interesting. Explaining your broken down furniture isn’t interesting. Tell your guests about your Lodge. Tell them about what Freemasonry does; the charities, your Lodge events, etc. Be proud of your fraternity. Freemasonry sells itself.
Maybe it’s the screenwriter in me, but here’s the best way to have a great event: enter the ‘meat’ of the event as late as possible and leave as soon as you can. If your event has a social hour, only have a 20 minute “information” part afterward. Let your guests mingle with members. Let them ask questions (yes, before the event!). Let them get comfortable. Then, after the social hour, make your presentation. Make it interesting, quick, and entertaining. Once it’s over, have an informal question and answer session and make sure you talk with every guest. Invite them back to your next public event.
Finally, have information. One of the primary complaints about the fraternity is that the Lodge will either (a) not have any information about Freemasonry that the guest can take with them; or (b) have stale information. If at all possible, get information packages from your Grand Lodge or have your best writers in your Lodge develop an information package tailored to Freemasonry in your jurisdiction and your Lodge in particular that the guest can take with them. Give them information on Freemasonry, your Lodge, an application, and a personal contact they can talk to once the evening is over.