Last June, I had the rare treat of locking a large group of America's various grand lodge officers in a room for the Northeast Conference of Grand Masters and browbeating them for 25 minutes or so. They actually took it pretty well, and the North Carolina contingent got so excited that they stood on their chairs cheering at the end, so it must not have been entirely idle air-bending. The subject that was much on the minds of everyone in that room that day was an almost obsessive concern over What To Do About Millennials. All last spring and summer, articles, editorials, marketing programs, and more came pouring out of Masonic offices everywhere that fretted and and concentrated on how to reach, recruit, and maintain the interest of men born between 1981 and about 2000. It was a curious preoccupation. If you read much of it dispassionately, you'd get the impression that what was being discussed was some odd, alien species, or perhaps some lost tribe of Amazonian rainforest dwellers who wandered out of the jungle and encountered their first flush toilet.
Well, just in time for the Conference of Grand Masters this weekend (and I mean JUST in time), Macoy Publishing has released a new book that needs to be on the bedside table of every grand lodge officer in the country, and probably the top three officers in any current Masonic lodge, too: 41 Million Men: The Importance of the Millennial Generation To Freemasonry, edited by Steve McCall, with an introduction by Michael Halleran. The book features essays by McCall, Halleran, Matt Nelson, Matthew Stuart, and Samuel Friedman, and it is due to go on sale on Saturday. Buy it and read it. You can literally finish it in one night, or on one plane trip.
Unlike the usual treatment of topics like this, their collection of essays is NOT written by a group of 70 year olds telling another group of 80 year olds "what young men want." These are actually active, enthusiastic, and very level-headed Millennial Masons in the trenches. Like most of us, they have encountered more than their share of failing, 'hospice lodges' providing nothing more nourishing to the heart, soul, mind, and stomach of the the rank and file Freemason besides prison coffee and gray bologna sandwiches in the basement. This diminutive volume presents the statistics in black and blue about who this generation of men are, how many of them are out there in the world, why they do and do not become Freemasons, and why so many of them who actually join the fraternity wind up leaving within two years or less. And they actually provide some solutions, because the world doesn't need yet another book with the premise, "I'll tell ya what's wrong with this fraternity..."
I despise generalizations, as a rule. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., reportedly said of generalizations: "No generalization is worth a damn, including this one." Nevertheless, what's important to understand is that the general attitudes, beliefs, values, behavior, and habits of Millennial men really ARE a perfect fit for what Freemasonry has to offer. 41 Million Men should be at the top of your reading list if you are in any sort of leadership position in this fraternity, and you ignore it and its information at your peril.
Steve McCall presents a generational overview of the current American demographic and their various broad characteristics and patterns of behavior. Samuel Friedman writes about the Millennials' generational attitudes about race, diversity, and gender, and how that may affect the fraternity going forward. Matt Nelson writes about the all important (and almost never practiced) topic of Masonic education, what forms it can take, what it should be providing, and how to introduce it into any lodge. Moreover, he stresses why it's so very, very important that we all need to be doing this right this very moment. And it's not like this is quantum physics, either. Matthew Stuart writes about the Millennials and concepts of spirituality, and why Freemasonry is the ideal fit for them, if we're doing this right. And the book is filled with practical advice on how to attract and retain these men who are so vital to keeping this fraternity alive in the coming years.
Half-baked plans, with no long-range planning, and zero enthusiasm will no longer do, and we are watching the results of that past behavior all around us. The truth is that we’ve got a cataclysmic problem with leadership and vision in this fraternity. Merely flacking and plumping for new members year after year and not knowing how to keep them is like your mechanic saying "I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder."
Here's a clue: I hate to break it to all of us, but younger men will have their revenge by simply outliving us. And try as we might, we can't rule anybody from the grave. Why make everybody's life miserable by ceaselessly insisting that the programming and practices in our lodges will only change when they rip the keys to the Temple out of our cold dead hands, and not before?
The poet George Meredith once wrote, "Keep the young generations in hail, and bequeath to them no tumbled house!" There are just as many Millennial men in America right now as there are of us Baby Boomers. It's long past time to hand them the keys, sit back, and say "Do greater things, and make us all proud."
Start by buying this book. And then get to work.