In addition to my masonic activities, car restorations and work on our house I am also involved in a weekly luncheon group with a variable membership of about 20 men of my own age. The common interest is older cars – their restoration and to some racing them. They all belong to organisations including Rotary, Freemasonry, Probus, political parties and the church. There is a common complaint that there are not enough new members.
None of the members seem to think that retaining or re-activating old members is as important as new members. There seems to be little thought and few conclusions as to why people join in the first place and why they leave. However there are a few common themes. The most important seem to be that the image of the organisation may not be conducive to joining and if on joining the organisation does not fulfil expectations members will leave, or at the very least, not continue to participate.
Lack of harmony seems to be the biggest reason for leaving. The other is when members feel themselves to be disenfranchised. If people join a political party to influence policy and the Branches are stacked by members who are normally never seen except every time an important vote is taken, members become alienated and leave. The same could be said of Freemasonry if there is too much centralization of power and insufficient participation allowed from individual Craft Lodges.
If people join an organisation because they think it has good community standing and that they will be able to meet and associate with its distinguished leaders they will often be disappointed. All too often the ambitious join organizations to attain a position that they could never achieve in their normal daily lives and professions. They try to gravitate to the top, often introducing organizational politics and bring little or nothing to the organisation. Members become disillusioned.
In most cases the grass roots organisation is blamed for a lack of new members. We hear “the congregation members must bring in more members”, “…the Branches must get more members and do more fund-raising”, or “…the Craft Lodges do not introduce enough new candidates”, and so on. But the root cause of lack of new members is more likely to be the “product”, the image of the organisation and its leaders. Most of these issues are in the hands of the controlling body, not the subordinate elements.
Organizations with declining membership need to have a good hard look at themselves. Sometimes this never occurs before it is too late. Let’s hope that Freemasonry does not suffer that fate.
Fraternal best wishes to all