Article about D.C. Masonic Statistics
What they Teach Us
(Paul M. Bessel, June 19, 1998)
Let’s take a look at the statistics about Masons in
Washington, D.C., without too much emotion and trying to learn what they can
First, how many Masons are there in the jurisdiction of our
Grand Lodge, and what have the trends been in total membership in the past.
The great increase in membership came at the end of World War
1 and the years following, followed by a decline in the late 1920s and the
Depression of the 1930s. World War 2 brought another increase, but that was
followed by the longest and greatest decline in membership in our history.
Incidentally, this pattern is similar to the growth and decline of other Grand
Lodges in the United States.
Some Masons point out that our history has up’s and down’s
in membership, and that World Wars result in increases. That does not help much,
since no one would think that another World War would result in increases in
Masonic membership. The survivors would have many other things to worry about.
Then, we have to examine some other patterns to find out why
our numbers have been declining, so we can try to determine what we can do to
Most Masons will tell us that the major factor causing our
decline in membership is the increasing number of deaths of Masons, since the
generation that joined 50 or more years ago is now dying off. Everyone assumes
that the number of deaths among Masons is going up each year, so the graph will
consist of a steadily rising line, just I did until I checked the facts. Here is
what the facts really are:
The significant fact is that since the 1960s the number of deaths among Masons
has gone DOWN. This is partly the result of us having fewer Masons in total, but
even the percentage of deaths to total number shows a decline in recent years.
So our numbers are not declining because of deaths. Why then?
How many are joining Freemasonry? How many are we raising
each year, compared to past trends?
We can learn a lot from this graph. First, note that the great increase in
members came during and after World War 1, not World War 2. That helps explain
why the peak of deaths came in the 1960s rather than now, as the generation of
Masons who joined right after World War 1 are now gone and it is the smaller
number of the World War 2 generation who constitute the majority of current
We can also see that the state of the economy does not have too much to do
with men joining Masonry, since the number was already declining in the
prosperous 1920s and 1950s-1960s, and the number joining Freemasonry did not go
down during the Great Depression; for much of the 1930s it was actually
The most significant lesson of this graph is that the number of men joining
Freemasonry has been declining from the end of World War 2 until now, almost
steadily, but it leveled off and even increased somewhat in recent years, right
after our Grand Lodge began using Grand Master’s 1-day classes to encourage
new memberships. This certainly seems to support the use of those classes.
However, there is an even more significant graph to examine. We should wonder
how many of the men who join us are happy with the organization they joined.
We should also take a look at how many simply let their membership drop, by
not paying dues.
The important things to note on these are not what happened in the past, but
what the recent trends show. In recent years, this decade, the number of Masons
who are leaving by taking a demit or worse, showing their dissatisfaction by not
even resigning, just ceasing to pay their dues. And remember, since our overall
numbers are going down, the proportion of Masons leaving Freemasonry is more
serious than it even appears on these graphs. This shows us that we are not
satisfying an increasing proportion of our members. What will we do to try to
hold onto these members more in the future? They joined Freemasonry to get
something from it. Shouldn’t we learn what they wanted, that they decided they
are not getting in our lodges? Shouldn’t we also remember that we are also not
attracting a significant number of new members to Masonry? Why not?
There is one final question that some may raise — isn’t quality more
important than quantity, so why talk about declining numbers? There are two good
The first is that everyone will agree that quality is more important than
quantity, but who can say that those who are leaving Masonry are of less quality
than those who are staying. Perhaps those leaving are doing so because they want
to participate in a thriving, intellectually-stimulating, deeply spiritual
Freemasonry, but they feel they have not found that currently.
The second response is that while quality is more important than quantity,
quantity is still of some importance. If the number of Masons declines much
more, we will not have enough to organize any programs to achieve any of our
goals. And, we are taught that one of the prime goals of Freemasonry is to
spread knowledge and the ideals of Masonry, and we need more Masons to do that.
[Note: The staff at our Grand Lodge office should be congratulated for
recently rechecking and correcting all the statistics about the numbers of
Masons in our jurisdiction. The charts that had been included in our Proceedings
for over 100 years contained many inaccuracies, which will be corrected in the
next edition of the Proceedings thanks to this great staff work.]