Masonic Membership: Quantity vs. Quality
by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
There is a general myth in the fraternity that the volume of membership relates to the quality of men dedicated to the principles of the fraternity; that as membership increases, quality suffers (or as membership decreases, quality improves). If this were true, the fraternity should be doing extremely well right now as our numbers continue to plummet. And perhaps we are losing quality men who are in search of other venues that are seemingly more stable.
If you are familiar with Quality Assurance principles, you know this myth is simply not valid. For example, in a manufacturing environment, it is true that the risk of error increases as volume increases, but this can be overcome by defining and adhering to standards and continually overseeing the manufacturing process and looking for improvements. This is Quality Assurance 101.
Unfortunately, there are no true standards for Masonic membership as it is interpreted differently by each jurisdiction. This is one reason why I no longer believe in the universality of the fraternity. How one jurisdiction perceives the implementation of Freemasonry will not necessarily be the same in the next jurisdiction. Sure, we have charters and the Ancient Landmarks (e.g., a Belief in God, the Volume of Sacred Law, and the prohibition of the discussion of politics and religion) but aside from this, how we attract, educate, initiate, pass, and raise members varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As one small example, consider the one day class; some people see it as a convenient way to increase membership, and others are adamantly opposed to it and chastise those Grand jurisdictions permitting it. There are even different interpretations on how to conduct the one day class, e.g., hundreds of Brothers at once versus a handful at a time. Regardless, there are no true standards for membership in Freemasonry, nor is there any concerted effort to study the membership process and recommend improvements.
Perhaps the closest we have come to studying the problem is the report entitled "It's About Time! — Moving Masonry into the 21st Century," which was recently published by the MSA Masonic Information Center, a 24-page PDF file. Basically, the report finally acknowledges that we have a membership problem and recommends a public relations program to overcome it.
A well crafted public relations program certainly cannot hurt, but I only see this as a small part of the solution. Again, I look upon this as a problem of standards and process improvement and, as such, what is needed is a Quality Assurance program. Ideally, this should be implemented on an international basis, but in reality, this will never happen as jurisdictions are territorial in nature. Consequently, the logical first step should be to implement a Quality Assurance program on a jurisdictional basis. By establishing such a program, we can affect both the quantity and quality of our membership.
Its no secret that our numbers are declining. I recently heard from a New York Brother who reported membership in that jurisdiction had plummeted from 308,000 in 1956 to 55,000 today. Other grand jurisdictions have also reported a steady erosion over the years.
We can either ignore the problem and hope that it goes away (it won't), or we can wake up and take action. This specifically means getting our Masonic officers to give the Craft the leadership it so desperately needs. As the MSA report correctly observes, "We have not a moment to lose."
Keep the Faith.
— Bro. Tim Bryce
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