Lodges have life cycles. They always have and always will. Lodges are born, they grow, they mature, they develop a personality, they become old, some marry (merge with another lodge), and some die. This is the life cycle of a lodge.
All lodges, of course, do not have the same life cycle. Some seem to live almost forever while others pass away while still very young. There are many factors that impact a lodge’s life cycle. Many of these factors come from the profane world and lodges are unable to resist those types of outside influences. Changing community demographics, local economic situations, and even natural disasters can and do influence the life cycle of a lodge.
The one factor that can be controlled by a lodge is its personality. As already mentioned, lodges do develop personalities – just like a person does. A lodge’s personality is developed and changed over long periods of time. Each new member of a lodge adds to the fabric of a lodge’s personality and – maybe more importantly – absorbs the existing personality of the lodge of which he has become a member.
The tough thing for a lodge is the ability – or inability – to recognize how its own personality is influencing its life cycle. Is the personality promoting or hindering a long, productive life cycle? Some often seen lodge personalities can be grouped into the following general categories.
1) The education based personality: Lodges with this type of personality tend to understand and appreciate the beauty of the lessons, structure, and rules of Freemasonry – or at least hunger to learn about those things. The core personality involves the promotion of Masonic education. These lodges usually are growing or are at least stable when it comes to membership numbers. They also usually have good, consistent attendance at the various meetings and events of the lodge. Its members typically look, act, and talk in a way that exemplifies the elevated status that Freemasonry has enjoyed.
2) The social club personality: Lodges that have developed this type of personality often have many members that are more interested in making new members – as opposed to making new Masons – and show little interest in learning about the beauty of the lessons, structure, and rules of Freemasonry. It is often found in these types of lodges that there is a much more relaxed interpretation of the rules and expectations of the Order. Poor attendance often plagues these lodges and there is usually much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth when it comes to the subject of deteriorating membership rolls. From these lodges, one will find – as Albert G. Mackey put it in 1875 – many men who “will give fifty dollars for a decoration, but not fifty cents for a book.”
3) The life support personality: Lodges in both of the previous categories can reach this point. The lodges in the first category can reach it because of the uncontrollable influences of the outside world and the second category lodges can reach it because of their own personality and/or because of the outside influences. The results are the same, however. These are the lodges that are at the end of their life cycle but have failed to adequately and calmly prepare for the end. Everything they do revolves around keeping the lodge alive. These lodges – however well-intentioned – are often dangerous. They are desperate and will do just about anything to survive. They often fail to adequately guard the West Gate when they get the rare petition and they are typically the type of lodge that continuously reaches out to the profane community to pay their bills by way of fundraisers.
There are certainly variations and intermingling of the lodge personalities just described. In other words, there are lodges that possess both the first and second personalities. A question that Masons should ask themselves from time to time is “what is the personality of my lodge and how is it influencing its life cycle?”