Monday, October 09, 2006

A caveat about mergers

If we meet less often, that'll help with membership.

If we shorten Introductions, that'll help with membership.

If we shorten Responses, that'll help with membership.

If we "lighten up" about the quality of our Ritualistic work, that'll help with membership.

If we rededicate ourselves to the quality of our Ritualistic work, that'll help with membership.

If we grant all dues-paying members voting credentials at the Grand Chapter session, that'll help with membership.

If we extend fraternal recognition to the Prince Hall Grand Chapter of Washington and Its Jurisdiction OES, that'll help with membership.

If we simplify the language in our Ritual, that'll help with membership.

If we relax our dress code, that'll help with membership.

If we support our youth groups, that'll help with membership.

If we build a big float and enter it into all of our community parades, that'll help with membership.

If we advertise on radio and with billboards, that'll help with membership.

If we put fraternal decals and license plates and frames on our cars, and wear fraternal pins and T-shirts, that'll help with membership.

If we do more "fun activities", that'll help with membership.

If we raise more funds for charity, that'll help with membership.

If we're visibly active in our local communities, that'll help with membership.

If we reach out to different ethnic and religious groups, that'll help with membership.

If we get rid of the meaningless "traditions" that are holding us back, and embrace change, that'll help with membership.

If we brew beer, or visit casinos, that'll help with membership.

If we lower our standards and make joining easier, that'll help with membership.

If we raise our standards and make joining more meaningful, that'll help with membership.

If we tell everyone we know how much we enjoy Eastern Star, that'll help with membership.

If we merge our diaspora of struggling Chapters into fewer, stronger Chapters, that'll help with membership.

Some of these are good ideas. Some are terrible ideas. All of them have been tried. Including, to varying degrees, mergers.

On the subject of membership, we're still tempted by the quick-fixes and cure-alls. We're plagued by an absence of logic and common sense. (Do any Chapters have prospectives beating down their doors with Petitions in hand if only Introductions could be three minutes shorter?)

On the subject of mergers, "membership" must not be the goal. Mergers and membership are almost oppositional. The reason mergers are still so taboo is that they require an acknowledgement that we cannot and will not increase membership enough or in time to save all our Chapters.

I don't believe anything in the above list has the slightest chance of increasing membership. I don't believe increasing membership is a realistic goal for the forseeable future. I don't believe this is entirely our fault, and I don't believe it is at all within our control. Not only that, but I think most of what we flail around with, in the name of membership, has been harmful to the members and the Chapters we already have. I still get tempted, but I'm learning to resist the siren song of membership.

The goal of mergers is not to grow the Order. It is to save the Order long enough to have any hope of growing some time in the future. It's important to acknowledge this, because it will shape our approach to mergers, and our approach is critical. We must conduct our mergers thoughtfully, because a bad merger can be even more destructive than none at all.

2 comments:

Chris Hodapp said...

Brilliant piece.

John said...

Well written. I do agree we confuse quantity with quality. Our society is radically different today than it was 80 years ago.

Do I want new members to join? Sure, but does that mean I want men of poor character or who have no interest in being active to join? Not so much.

In this new world the Elks, the Lions, the Rotary, the Churches and, yes, the Masonic fraternities all suffer.

Men and women's lives are consumed with so many demands on their time that joining a club of any kind is usually pretty low on a list of priorities; if the thought ever even occured to them in the first place.

The only thing I think does help is to argue the point that taking time for a club is an overall net gain in your quality of life; that the social capital gained will bring you a certain amount of peace and confidence with shared friends and community.

My call to membership always starts with the question, "So, what, you have too many friends?"