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 teach us.
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 change this.
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 deaths.
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 increasing.
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 answers.
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.]