Masonry is one of the oldest and most well-known fraternal organizations in the world. Its origins can be traced back centuries of years, and it has counted many influential figures amongst its members over the course of its long history.
However, in recent decades, Masonry has faced a concerning decline in membership and relevancy. As society and culture have evolved, Masonry too must adapt and renew itself to stay relevant in the modern world.
This examination of the current status of and future prospects for Freemasonry drew inspiration in part from an insightful 1990 address on ‘Masonry Today’ by Bro. Myron Lusk, a Masonic scholar and leader.
Declining Membership and Increasing Age
One of the most pressing issues facing Masonry today is declining membership.
As noted by Bro. Myron Lusk, average membership is decreasing across Masonic lodges.
Relatedly, the average age of Masons is increasing, as fewer young men are joining to take the place of older members who are aging out of active participation or passing away. This trend presents a risk to the organization’s future viability if new members are not attracted.
Some lodges are even struggling to find enough members willing to serve in leadership roles or take on the responsibilities of running the organization.
Amalgamations of struggling lodges are becoming more common, as is the sale of lodge buildings that can no longer be supported by dwindling memberships.
Even the financial stability of some Grand Lodges is being impacted. It is clear that declining membership presents an existential threat to Masonry if not addressed.
Societal Shifts Creating Disinterest
Several societal factors have contributed to the membership crisis facing Masonry today.
First, the nature of community itself has changed since Masonry’s heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries. People are more transient and less likely to spend their whole lives in one town or city.
This reduces the close-knit community ties that often led several generations of one family to belong to the local Masonic lodge.
With more fragmented social circles, Masonry holds less appeal as a central social institution for many men today.
Secondly, families today are less likely to be sustained on a single income.
With more households depending on two working parents, there is less spare time to devote to fraternal organizations like Masonry that require a serious time commitment.
People today also have many more options to fill their leisure time, from online activities to a focus on health and fitness. With so many competing demands, Masonry often loses out.
Finally, the secrecy and exclusivity that have historically surrounded Masonry may have diminished its accessibility and appeal to modern men.
In the absence of clear information about the organization’s purpose and activities, negative assumptions may prevail. Men today do not necessarily see the attraction of joining an elite secret society.
Changing Relationship with the Public
For much of its long history, Masonry maintained a very public-facing role in society.
Masonic lodges would conduct cornerstone laying ceremonies for public buildings, and Grand Lodge installations and activities were covered in the press.
This high degree of visibility communicated Masonry’s purpose and values to the broader public and helped cement its standing as a respected institution.
Today, however, the average person knows little to nothing about Freemasonry. Its reputation as a secret society causes many to view it with suspicion or indifference.
Unlike in the past, Masonic lodges today tend to maintain an extremely low public profile, conducting their activities and charitable work largely out of public view.
While this may have been intended to protect Masonry’s secrets, it has also hidden its identity and purpose from the population at large.
This lack of public awareness presents a major barrier to attracting new members, who may harbor misconceptions about Masonry based on its obscurity.
Additionally, Masonry misses out on opportunities to communicate through public ceremonies and charitable works that it is an organization founded on noble values that seeks to improve its communities.
A modern renewal requires finding the right balance between maintaining the sacred tenets of Freemasonry while also communicating more effectively with the public.
Loss of Younger Generations
Related to its declining membership, Masonry today struggles to attract younger members.
The existing membership base is rapidly aging, and there are too few new initiations to sustain lodges over the long term. Young men today often view Masonry as outdated, unnecessary, or simply do not think about it at all.
To thrive in the modern era, attracting men under 40 and even under 30 is critical.
Younger generations have different values, interests, and expectations than the predominantly older leadership of Masonry today. Bridging this generational divide to make Masonry relevant and appealing to younger demographics is pivotal.
Without an influx of new blood, Masonry risks fading away within a generation or two. The lack of mentorship opportunities for seasoned Masons to pass down knowledge to fresh initiates also presents a challenge to sustaining Masonic traditions and culture.
Reorienting Masonry to be more accessible and meaningful for younger members is imperative.
Due in part to Masonry’s low public profile in modern times, serious misunderstandings about the organization have proliferated.
In the absence of clear information about their gathering and principles, some churches and religious groups have condemned Masonry as anti-religious or even satanic.
Sensationalist media accounts have spread fear and suspicion about Masonic teachings and practices.
The aura of secrecy has enabled misinformation to thrive.
Today, Masonry faces more scrutiny and skepticism than perhaps ever before in its history in America.
Though the moral lessons conveyed through Masonic ritual are ancient and upright, suspicions abound about what truly goes on behind closed Lodge doors.
Unfortunately, the lack of transparency into Masonry’s worthy aims makes it a target.
This hyper-charged climate of misunderstanding harms Masonry’s ability to attract good men who would make excellent Masons. It also limits Masonry’s ability to visibly contribute to communities in partnership with other organizations.
Dispelling myths through greater openness and effective communication is necessary in the modern era.
In addition to the array of external factors negatively impacting Masonry’s standing and membership today, the organization also faces some internal challenges that demand reflection and change.
Lodges increasingly cater only to themselves rather than looking outward. There is often resistance to any kind of public relations or community outreach among members who value secrecy above all else.
However, as Masonic scholar Bro. Lusk points out in his address, silence breeds public ignorance, which ultimately hurts Masonry’s future prospects.
A balance must be struck between preserving Masonic secrets and traditions while also embracing appropriate transparency.
Additionally, many Masons cling rigidly to past traditions for their own sake rather than evaluating which practices are beneficial in the modern context and which have become outdated or counterproductive.
As Bro. Lusk’s humorous Winston Churchill anecdote illustrates, rejecting all evolution in the name of “tradition” can be dangerous for any institution.
Masonry today likely needs to critically examine some long-standing practices to stay vibrant.
Finally, inflexibility and resistance to change from many Masonic leaders presents an obstacle.
Younger Masons who recognize needed areas of modernization and have innovative ideas for attracting peers often feel stifled by the entrenched perspectives of their elders who hold leadership roles.
Tensions across generational divides within some lodges inhibit necessary evolution.
Reasons for Hope
While the challenges facing Masonry today are considerable, ample reason for hope remains.
Masonry possesses a sturdy foundation of moral teachings and ritual traditions that have proven meaningful and worthwhile to members for centuries.
This strong core, rooted in a quest for self-improvement, fraternal bonding, and service to the community, remains intact even amid external pressures.
Additionally, Masonry has survived past periods of strife and controversy throughout its long history, like the Anti-Masonic fervor that swept America following the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan in 1826. As Brother Lusk describes, through that extended period of suppression, faithful Masons like Tyler Daniel Taylor kept the light alive until the anti-Masonic movement finally lost momentum.
Just as in the past, the true spirit and principles of Freemasonry cannot ever be destroyed, regardless of the challenges of the present era. Faith and hard work from its devoted members can restore Masonry once more.
Finally, successful initiatives like the intensive survey of public perceptions undertaken in the 1980s demonstrate Masonic leaders recognize the threats facing the organization and are willing to pursue data-driven reform.
When armed with detailed insights about barriers to joining, Masonry has an opportunity to directly address issues through education and outreach. This willingness to engage in self-examination and change bodes well.
To fully realize Masonry’s renewal in the modern era, credible solutions must be proposed and implemented. Based on the issues explored, some recommended pathways include:
- Launching centralized public education and relations campaigns to promote greater public understanding of Masonry’s mission and deeds. This could involve digital media, articles, open house events, and more to combat assumptions and mysteries.
- Supporting individual Masons in appropriate, proportional ways to share their positive membership experiences when questions about Masonry arise organically in their communities. This personal touch humanizes Masonry.
- Seeking partnerships with external groups like charities, churches, local governments, and schools to conduct visible community service projects. This demonstrates Masonry’s public spirit.
- Establishing mentorship programs to guide new young Masons and build deeper intergenerational relationships within lodges. This facilitates knowledge transfer.
- Refreshing aspects of initiation rituals and ceremonies to align with modern sensibilities while preserving their essence. This entices younger members.
- Creating leadership pathways for younger Masons to contribute ideas and eventually assume governance roles. This enables necessary evolution.
- Developing family-inclusive social events at lodges to accommodate busy schedules and engage whole families. This signals accessibility.
- Promoting Masonic ideals of self-improvement through new platforms like podcasts, videos, and online education. This leverages technology.
- Spotlighting famous modern Masons who young people look up to, like astronauts or celebrities. This taps the power of pop culture.
- Collaborating with college Greek life organizations that share Masonry’s fraternal values to engage students early. This builds crucial early awareness.
A combination of public relations, community outreach, internal culture change, fresh programming, and modern communications is required to revitalize Masonry for a new era. Above all, courage and open-mindedness to see old “traditions” with new eyes are essential.
The principles of Masonry remain timeless, but their expression can and must be updated to attract today’s men and generations to come. Masonry has a future by boldly getting back to its foundations of self-improvement, service, and brotherly love.
Masonry today faces complex challenges, both external and internal, that threaten its ongoing survival.
However, with vision, commitment to its core values, and willingness to thoughtfully evolve, Masonry can and will renew itself in the 21st century and beyond.
Its light may have dimmed due to complacency and rigidity, but it still shines brightly at its core.
This beacon can inspire great men and enrich communities for centuries more if nurtured carefully in today’s complicated world.
Supporting Masonry is supporting the advancement of mankind, one Brother at a time.