A recent reader request posted to our Facebook page highlighted what many active Masons would consider a problem. Members who are Masons by name only. Meaning; that they paid their initiation fees, received their degrees, and continue to remain Masons in good standing because they continue to pay their dues, but unfortunately no one knows who they are because they are never to be found at any Lodge function. This is the title that many active members bestow on the non-active member, they are “dues paying Masons”, or “Masons by name only”.
In my recent travels as a District Deputy Grand Master, I followed through on the duties charged to me, by delivering uplifting and motivational speeches to the lodges in my district. Three of my speeches were entitled the Life and Death of a Freemason in which I broke the career of a Mason into three distinct parts. The topic of this conversation refers to the middle ages of a Mason. Every lodge has this hierarchy of members once they complete their degrees. First and foremost, you have your Actives, the guys who take the chairs and confer the degrees and mentor new candidates. Then you have the Meet and Eat Masons, the ones who are at every meeting and anytime there is a spaghetti dinner or pancake breakfast they are there to show their support. The final group and unfortunately the most prevalent group in your lodges are the Dues Paying Masons.
You may think that I’m crazy when I say that is the biggest group but take the time to think back to your last several meetings. Do you remember seeing the same people at all those meetings? What was your attendance at those meetings? What is your total lodge membership? Let me give you an example. If your lodge has 300 members, and your average attendance at your stated meetings, including officers, is 30 then you have a 10% membership attendance. Out of those 30 in attendance, 10 (in PA) of those in attendance are officers, elected and appointment. That leaves you, on average, 270 “Masons by name only”.
So, what can we do to change this? Well, that is up to your mentors, and recruitment and retention committees. You almost have to individualize each new member experience to focus on the things that are important to them to keep them coming back. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try this disparity is not going to be overcome. This mainly goes back to recruiting, everyone has done it, I am guilty of it as well. When someone asks “how much is going to be expected of me?” We say as much as you want to give. That means zero to a lot of people, but if we tell them a lot, they don’t join. Ideally, we would have a 50% active membership at least, its not impossible but will take a lot of work by the small number of active members.
One thing we normally do not question to much of an extent is the motivation of one to join the lodge. The answer will always be something generic and accepted, but may not be the real reason. The line “you only get out of Freemasonry what you put into it” is a line that is not always accurate. I have met many men who are iron workers or electricians, that are members of unions, and those unions have a lot of Masons, that say it would behoove you to join. Those guys join to get the title and that gets them the acceptance they need for their employment. If they came out and said that would we then not grant them admittance?
The long and short of this debate is this: the sheer percentage of each lodge’s membership made up of non-active members, are the sole reason the lodges are still operational. This group of Masons literally keeps the lights on at every single lodge. The real quote that should be uttered when a new Mason is made is “you get out of Freemasonry what you want to get out of Freemasonry”. Is that the best line to use, absolutely not. However, each of these members who continue to not show up must still be getting something out of the fraternity or they wouldn’t continue to pay dues. I have found that if we just embrace these members and continue to thank them for their membership we are much better off than complaining about their lack of participation. Every group in Freemasonry is important and arguable this group could be the most.
Bro. Spangler is the District Deputy Grand Master of the 27th Masonic District under the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and a two time Past Master of Armstrong Lodge #239 in Freeport, PA. He is a two time Past High Priest of Orient Holy Royal Arch Chapter #247, Deputy Illustrious Master of Kittanning Council #52, and Warder of Holyrood Commandery #100 all in Kittanning, PA. He is a member of the Valley of New Castle AASR and Syria Shrine in Cheswick, PA. A member of Gateway to the West Council #5 of Knight Masons USA located in Pittsburgh, PA. A member of the Widows Sons, Masonic Riders Association, Tyrian Chapter, located in Plumcreek/Monroeville, PA. He is at the forefront of advancing Freemasonry to the best of his ability by working within the constraints of the Rules and Regulations to spread the light of Freemasonry. He focuses highly on the philosophical and symbolic importance of the fraternity and the promoting of Masonic Education. Bro. Cody can be reached by email at cspang4054@