Choosing the Right Path

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Time is not on our side. As I looked at our California Odd Fellows membership statistics over the past 70 years I see that in 1950 (65 years ago) we had 29,096 members. In 1960, we had 21,744. In 1970, our membership had dropped to 14,027. By 1980, we showed 10,151 members on our books. In 1990, we had 7,617 in our membership. The year 2000 revealed 5,846. Today, in 2015, our California Odd Fellows membership hovers around 4,000. And, need I remind us all that 4,000 members on the books does not translate into active members. My best guess is that if our books show 4,000 members, then about 2,000 are active, participating members.

Having so few members impacts our Lodges in many negative ways. We have an aging membership and our “gene pool” of competence has diminished. Many Lodges have difficulty filling officer positions, and a substantial number of Lodges even have trouble meeting our very low five-member quorum threshold. The diminished membership, for some Lodges, means an inability to have the necessary financial checks and balances we require for our books and records.

While the situation is certainly dire in California, it is much, much worse in other jurisdictions in the USA. There are jurisdictions in this country with fewer than 200 members.

It is amazing to me that many Lodges in our Order continue to operate in a “business-as-usual” mode. Very little, if anything, changes. The leadership and members of many Lodges seem to be content with the status quo. That may be comfortable and familiar to those members, but to continue to operate in the same manner is, frankly, selfish. It does not account for the future of the Lodge or the future of our Order. Simply put, we cannot operate in a business as usual fashion and expect anything to change regarding our diminishing numbers. And the situation is (with an allusion to Star Trek) in “red alert”. When our numbers are 4,000 we cannot afford to continue to lose 100-200 members a year as we have been doing over the past two generations and expect to survive for another generation.

The solution, however, is right before our very eyes. If we choose to open our eyes.

While most of our Lodges have been losing members, or at best, remaining static in membership, there are a few Lodges that have – year after year – shown an INCREASE in membership. I have visited Lodges that are steadily losing members and I have visited Lodges that are regularly gaining members. The statistics regarding Lodges that are gaining members shows us two things: (1) There is nothing inherent about Odd Fellowship that would impel us to conclude it is an irrelevant or dying Order. If there are Lodges that are gaining members, that means that the Order is relevant and vibrant – at least for those Lodges and members. (2) If we look at the Lodges that are gaining members (not as a one-year phenomenon, but on a regular basis) we should be able to learn the secret of success.

So, what can we conclude from all of this? Plenty.

First, as to Lodges that have been losing members over the years or staying static, I have observed Lodges that are complacent. Meetings are often boring. I have been to many meetings where there are no committee reports, no old business and no new business. Often, the meetings last 30 minutes and involve a ritual opening, sick and distressed reports, reading of the minutes, paying of a couple bills, ritual closing and little else. The Lodge may write a check or two to the local high school or an Odd Fellow charity, and may schedule an occasional potluck – and that’s it. Who would want to join such a moribund Lodge? In those rare times when a young person joins such a Lodge, I have chatted with those new members and they often express frustration because the Lodge members throw cold water on any new idea brought up by the new member.

Second, as to Lodges that have been gaining members over the years, I have observed that these Lodges run formal meetings, with ritual and regalia as well as anyone. But, they have two other ingredients in the mix, that seem to make all the difference in the world. These growing Lodges plan social activities for the members, and they also involve themselves in the local community in good community and charitable works. A fun Lodge and an active Lodge is the “fountain of youth” for Odd Fellowship, and will attract those young men and women we need to survive, and indeed, to thrive in the 21st Century.

Which path will your Lodge choose?

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California