Christopher Livingston – Changing Masonry in a Changing World

This was originally posted to the Texas Freemasons Facebook group by Brother Christopher Livingston on the 18th of September, 2017.

Changing Masonry in a Changing World

Christopher Livingston

The world is changing. The largest taxi service in the world is Uber. It doesn’t own a single vehicle. The largest hotel service in the world is Airbnb. It doesn’t own a single property. A key retailer? Amazon, which made $136 billion in 2016 without a single brick-and-mortar storefront. Software has disrupted and displaced the world of the 20th Century and will continue to disrupt industries in the coming decade.

Every leader acknowledges that America’s culture is changing. To reach a changing culture, Freemasonry needs to change. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t need to change the Landmarks. We shouldn’t change the message or the meaning. Just the method. One is sacred. The other is not.

The wise leader is taking steps today to position his lodge to respond to these things. I know that’s what I have been doing at my lodges and as President of the 14th MWSA, where I have the privilege of serving.

It’s not clear what Freemasonry will look like in the future, but there a few trends are becoming clear. Here’s what I see as characteristics of the lodges that will make an impact in the next decade:

  1. An Admission of a Problem and a Need. Most lodges will not revitalize because leaders and members refuse to recognize that their lodge is in trouble. Those who do acknowledge the problem have taken a major first step. Those lodges will make a commitment to move in a new direction.
  2. Humility. This characteristic is obviously related to the first. Leaders and members must not think they have all the answers. They should have a humble and teachable spirit. They will be willing to bring outside persons in to help them view their situation more objectively.
  3. Outsider Focus. Lodges that become passionate about people outside their walls will be far more effective than lodges that are passionate about keeping the few people they have inside their walls. Better still, they will have a healthier lodge. We call individuals who are fixated on their own wants and needs selfish and immature. Selfless and mature lodges will have an impact because of their passion for the Brotherhood of Man.
  4. Concrete Purpose. Freemasonry consists of a body of men banded together for the purpose of mutual, intellectual, social, and moral improvement. It endeavors to cultivate and exhibit Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth; not only to one another, but also to the world at large. The successful lodge has this purpose as a driving path to everything it accomplishes.
  5. Strategic Goals. The successful lodge will have an overarching strategic plan on how to accomplish its concrete purpose. Lodges may implement different goals, but those goals will be exhibited through a plan. The plan suggested by the Grand Lodge is completion of the Vanguard requirements, but some successful lodges will add to or deviate from that suggested plan.
  6. Quick Decision Making. Lodges with slow and complicated decision-making processes will be unable to keep up with the progress of change. There are times to be slow and deliberate, but everyday decisions must come quickly. Today’s generation is the first to grow up entirely on a diet of technological solutions. A study by Carleton University in 2006 gave the famous statistic that web designers have 500 milliseconds to impress and engage a user landing on their page for the first time. 500 milliseconds. The new world values quick decision making.
  7. Innovation and Flexibility. The lodge doesn’t need to change its purpose, but it does need to change its methods. Flexible and adaptable lodges innovate around strategy and different initiatives and have the freedom to make changes to make an impact moving forward. They are willing to try a variety of things to make an impact and are courageous enough to kill something as soon as it stops producing results.
  8. Valuing Online Relationships as Real Relationships. Lodges that aren’t online beyond a website are going to miss the boat. Real interaction with real people on online is the new norm. In 2016, the Pew Research Center concluded that 79% of online American adults and 68% of all American adults use Facebook. Social media use is almost as common in 2016 as television use was in 1960. Think about that.
  9. Prioritizing a “For You,” not “From You” Culture. Lodges in decline often think in terms of what they can get from people—dues, time, donations, growth, etc. Lodges that will make an impact will be passionate about what they want for people—personal development, intellectual development, leadership development, etc.
  10. A Tailored Experience, Not a Tailored Message. Successful lodges won’t tailor the message to bring in members, they will tailor the experience. Ritual will not be shortchanged. Examinations will not be perfunctory. Last year there were Christmas presents under the tree at my house. But 90% of those presents were purchased online. The message was still sacred as we gathered early Christmas morning, but the experience leading up to it was different—we skipped the mall. The sacred parts of Freemasonry must not change, but a successful lodge will tailor the experience to better reach a new generation.

Again, this is just what I see from my experience serving as WM at Richardson and Hillcrest lodges. I could be wrong, but hopefully this gives you some ideas. I’m talking in generalities because I don’t believe there’s any one right way to lead a successful lodge. But I have points, because I think there are some characteristics that are universally successful.