Last December, while on a Christmas break in London, I spent some time during a spell of cold and foggy days, giving some thoughts to matters that I seldom had time to contemplate when back home in Wellington. These included future directions for Lodges, particularly ways of encouraging some of the fringe members to become more active as an alternative to falling attendance and eventual resignation.
I have broken the typical membership into several classifications of activity namely-
These tend to be the long-standing members who attend meetings out of habit and for reasons of fellowship. The also tend to be the faithful supporters of external events, both those of the Lodge and wider Freemasonry.
These are the Brethren who have accepted the call to progress up the ladder. While their continuing membership is reasonably secure we must ensure that they gain an understanding of ritual beyond the repetition of its delivery.
This is the greatest area of vulnerability. They are initiated, passed and raised and then start to wonder what it is all about. The first signs of disquiet are evident when the decline to join the ladder. Lodge for them can become an endless repetition of 1,2,3 ceremonies without their gaining an understanding of the meaning of the ritual. This is the point at which they are most vulnerable to fading away and eventually resigning. The best way to keep them interested is to give them a task with a need to report back.
While we understand that the traditionally active older members will likely succumb to this category, it is those who have dropped away from semi active status are the most difficult to recover to the ranks. They need a one on one approach with some positive messages on how they could participate and contribute to the Lodge.
“I WILL TRADE MY TIME FOR AN OUTCOME”
This should be our guiding philosophy for a retention plan. We must seek and offer reasons to attend regularly. The progressive active group has the most reason to attend regularly, the have a job to do. Likewise the traditionally active group will turn up more often if they have a task to perform.
It is the semi active group that needs our most attention more than just seeing them as "back bench fodder". We need to understand why they decline the ladder. They may be put off by perceiving it as years of learning ritual. I believe that the key is understanding before learning and this can be approached in several ways eg. Targeted discussion groups of the type run a few years ago by Dr George Allan. His "graduates" have made good progress in several local lodges.
Some years ago, at the invitation of the District GM, I ran a workshop in the Ruahine District on learning and presenting ritual. I was accompanied by my wife who is an experienced theatre practitioner. She went through the techniques actors use to understand, learn and present their lines, techniques which can equally be applied to our needs. I believe that some work in this area would open the way to encourage more participation in the ladder.
Alongside this is another theatrical learning technique, which is the rehearsed reading. This technique involves several rehearsals leading to a performance with scripts in hand. As it does not involve actual learning the presence of a script gives the confidence that often only requires brief reference to it. At a well-presented rehearsed reading the audience barely notices the presence of scripts. This is a step, generally missing in Lodges, which can lead to an interest in undertaking learned ritual, thus resulting in participation and retention.
In summary – Planned participation equals retention
WBro Morris Robertson