Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
How about taking a little “self-awareness test”?
As we continue to decline in membership and in the number of Lodges in this Order, I thought it might be useful to develop this short, 20 question test. It’s apparent to me that there are Lodge members out there in the ether who actually do not know if their Lodge is or isn’t in danger of losing their charter because of declining membership. So, as a public service, I have developed this simple test – and all will be revealed. Think of it as the OUIJA Board of Lodge Futures. I ask you to be completely honest in your answers to this test. Remember, it’s a personal test. No one is going to see the results, or grade you. It’s just for you. The questions must all be answered either “yes” or “no”.
So, begin the test now:
1. Does your Lodge have more than 19 dues-paying members?
2. Does your Lodge typically have at least 10 members in attendance at your meetings?
3. Does your Lodge have at least two members who are younger than 40?
4. Does your Lodge have at least two members who are younger than 30?
5. Does your Lodge have any female members?
6. Does your Lodge have at least two members who are female?
7. Has your Lodge initiated at least one new member over the last two years?
8. Has your Lodge initiated at least one new member over the last year?
9. Does your Lodge’s Noble Grand typically serve for only one term?
10. Do more than two members run your Lodge?
11. At your typical Lodge meeting, is bickering among some members a rare event?
12. Does your Lodge sponsor and host at least one signature event for the community each year?
13. Did your Lodge send at least three press releases to your local newspaper over the past year?
14. If you were to ask the typical town resident “where is the Odd Fellows Lodge located”, would they know the answer?
15. Does your Lodge have a dinner or potluck or refreshments prior to your meetings?
16. Did your Lodge contribute to local community and charitable causes over the last year?
17. Does your Lodge produce a newsletter (either e-mail or hard copy) for the members?
18. Is the majority of your Lodge meeting time taken up by committee reports and new business?
19. Have you, personally, sponsored a new member who was initiated into your Lodge over the past two years?
20. Do you, personally, enjoy attending Lodge meetings?
That’s it! So, tally up the number of your answers that were “yes”.
If you had 18-20 “yes” answers, your Lodge is a superstar. I am confident that you are a member of a very well-rounded and successful Lodge that has a bright future. If you had 14-17 “yes” answers, then your Lodge has great potential, and with a little work can be considered a Lodge that will survive well into the 21st Century. If you had 10-13 “yes” answers, then you should be quite concerned about the future viability of your Lodge. Some quick corrective action must be taken, or your Lodge will wither. If you had 5-9 “yes” answers, I suggest that your Lodge is in trouble, and absent some significant turn-around, particularly in Lodge activity and new membership, will not survive another decade. And if you had 0-4 “yes” answers, then – sad to say – there is little hope for the survival of your Lodge. You are a member of a boring, do-nothing Lodge, that is slowly making the descent to a lack of quorum and loss of charter. You should start looking around for a nearby Lodge with which you can consolidate, if they will take you.
F – L – T
Statistics show that we are slowly disappearing as an Order. This trend, however, can be reversed.
First, the statistics. I have reviewed the Grand Lodge Journals from the turn of the 21st Century to the present. In reviewing the statistics from 2000 to 2013, we find that in 2000 we had 181 Odd Fellows Lodges in California. Today, in 2013, we have 126 Odd Fellows Lodges. That, brothers and sisters, is a loss of 55 Lodges in 13 years, an average of 4 or 5 Lodges lost each year. Put another way, since 2000, we have lost 30% of our Lodges.
But the situation is more dire than that. We may have 126 Lodges on the books, but only 7 of these Lodges have 100 or more members. Of the 126 Lodges, fully 55 Lodges (almost half of all our Lodges) have 20 or fewer members on their books. In fact, 10 of our Lodges have 10 or fewer members on their books. If we assume that only about half the members listed on the books of the Lodge actually participate in meetings and Lodge events, we have to also assume that these Lodges – if they meet at all – are experiencing significant quorum problems. These Lodges are limping along with the illusion of stability.
And we also see tremendous disparities in sizes of our Lodges. The 10 largest Lodges in California now have more than one-third the total membership of our Order. That is, one out of every three Odd Fellows in California is a member of just these 10 Lodges. The trend over the years shows that the 10 largest Lodges will soon have 2 out of every 5 members, and eventually will have half the membership in this Order. So, the few largest Lodges are growing, while the remaining 116 of our Lodges (over 90%) are (with a few exceptions) generally shrinking. That is not a happy trend.
In terms of membership numbers over that same period, the Journals show that on January 1, 2000, total Odd Fellows Lodge membership was 6,074. (These membership numbers are total membership which includes dues paying regular members, associate members and non-contributing members – so they represent the best possible scenario of membership.) On January 1, 2013, the total membership number was only 4,755. That’s a decline of 1,315 members in that 2000-2013 time period. Put another way, we have averaged a decline of over 100 members per year.
If we drill down the membership numbers, year after year, however, we see an ominous trend. Typically, only a small percentage of our Lodges have a net gain of membership in any given year. The large majority of our Lodges have a net loss, or at best, stay stagnant. There are a couple of handfuls of larger Lodges that gain members. Most of the smaller Lodges lose members. There are Lodges in California that have not added new members in years, while the existing membership ages, withdraws from membership, or passes away.
And what we see in the Odd Fellows Lodges, we see multiplied in the Rebekah Lodges, and multiplied again in the Branches. For example, there are less than 200 active members in all the Encampments in California, and less than 100 active members in all the Cantons in California. The Ladies Encampment Auxiliary and the Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant are in similar straits.
The statistics show that the present course is unsustainable.
But it is not inevitable.
There is a solution to this conundrum. The solution is obvious and simple: We need to bring more members into our Odd Fellows Lodges. If our Lodges are strong, our Branches will be strong, as well. Grand Lodge has offered incentives to help recruitment of new members. For example, the Membership Challenge Grant Program provided funds to Lodges for new members. And the new $1,000 Membership Grant Program supports Lodges that develop membership programs. But ultimately, membership development is not the task of the Grand Lodge, or even of the Lodges. Membership development begins at the basic unit of Odd Fellowship: YOU.
If YOU don’t bring in a new member to your Lodge, you are failing your Lodge and your Order. It is up to YOU and me and each Odd Fellow to reach out into the community to bring in the new blood our Order needs to reverse the decline. Too many of our members have become complacent and expect that someone else will bring in new members. But that “someone else” is actually YOU. Don’t sit back and depend on the other guy or gal to get the job done.
But ultimately, and honestly, this will not work until YOU work with your Lodge to make the Lodge an interesting place. New members won’t join (and certainly won’t stay) if all your Lodge does is have boring meetings. YOU have to work within your Lodge to develop fun good fellowship activities for the members. And YOU have to work within your Lodge to develop good community projects that not only benefit your community, but also provide worthwhile charitable work that will satisfy your members’ community spirit.
I have called this “The Three-Legged Stool” in the past. A stool needs three strong legs to work. If any leg is weak, the stool will eventually topple. Too many Lodges rely too heavily on just one leg – the rich history and ritual of our Order. To be sturdy, a Lodge needs to also develop and strengthen the two other legs: Good fellowship activities within the Lodge for the members, and good community works to benefit the town or area where the Lodge is located. All three are needed for a strong and growing Lodge.
Sovereign Grand Lodge does not bring in new members into the Order. Grand Lodge doesn’t bring new members into the Order. The responsibility to bring new members into our fraternity rests squarely with YOU and YOUR Lodge. Only YOU can reach out, find and sponsor an applicant, assist them in filling out the application form, and mentor them once they decide to fill out that application. Over the past decade, I have personally sponsored over 120 new members into the Order.
But for many Odd Fellows, it’s not that easy. Over the years, I have found that there are three great impediments which seem to prevent many members of of our Order from the task of bringing in new members – which we will discuss in this newsletter. And make no mistake about it – bringing new members into Odd Fellowship is the primary responsibility of existing members. Our Order has existed for hundreds of years because our predecessors had the foresight to build Lodge halls and bring new members into the fold. We break the fraternal links with those who came before us, if we do not follow through and continue the task. Bottom line: There is no greater duty of an Odd Fellow than to continue the life of the Order, and that life continues only with the addition of the next generation of members.
So, what are the three great impediments?
1. Inertia. To take a walk around the block, you first have to get up out of your chair, and then open the front door. Some members can’t or won’t get out of their chairs. And some just won’t open that door.
“Inertia” is defined as “a tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged.” The term stems from physics which defines a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or motion, unless that state is changed by an external force. In other words, complacency. Too many of our long-time members have grown complacent and comfortable with the status quo – even though the status quo means certain death of the Lodge within a few years. These members like it just the way it is and the way it has been since they joined the Order. To them, change might rock their boat. And new members mean change. So at the core, these members are selfish. They are more about their own comfort than the future of their Lodge or the Order. But change is inevitable. When these members were young they listened to the news on the radio, read the newspaper at the kitchen table, wrote letters in longhand, and used a phone with a dial. Those days are gone. Today, the young men and women of the 21st Century use their iPhones, read the news online, and communicate via email, text, messenger, snapchat and twitter.
Inertia will ultimately kill this Order, unless we shake the complacent members out of their fraternal torpor.
2. Timidity. Some members may feel that they do not know who to invite to join the Lodge, or if they have someone in mind they feel that they don’t know how to broach the subject.
To begin, we all know people who we can ask. That excuse won’t wash. There are people at work, at the grocery store, in your neighborhood, in your place of worship – heck, even in your own family – that you could invite to consider joining your Lodge. Don’t be afraid to ask. And you broach the subject by simply asking: “Have you ever heard about the Odd Fellows?” All they can say is “yes”, “no” or maybe”. Two out of those three answers opens the door.
But the more difficult task is to be able to talk about the Odd Fellows history and your own Lodge. Now, in an active Lodge, the discussion is easy. There is a lot to talk about when your Lodge has activities (things like potlucks, parties, excursions), and if your Lodge has such activities, it’s easy to invite the prospect to join you at one of them. If your Lodge does good works in the community (things like scholarships, highway cleanup, helping deliver meals to elderly), that is certainly something to talk about as well. If your Lodge doesn’t do much more than have meetings once or twice a month, then – to be frank – there is little to talk about and little incentive for folks to join. Face it, if you have a Lodge where the members do little more than sit around and read from a little red book, talk about who is sick or in distress, and figure out how to repair the plumbing, then you are a member of a boring Lodge. If that is the status of your Lodge, you should work with your Lodge mates to develop some social activities and community projects. Once you have these in place, you will find that recruitment of new members becomes much easier.
3. Fear. Perhaps the greatest impediment to bringing in new members is the most insidious of all. It is fear. I’m not talking about “fear” in the sense of terror or fright. I’m talking about a much more silent type of fear – specifically, fear of change. I don’t mean to diminish this fear – because it is real. I have seen it in Lodges on the precipice. The members are fearful of what new members will do to the Lodge to which they have grown accustomed.
Yes, new members will change the complexion and the culture of your Lodge. That is inevitable. A Lodge that had 10 members in the 65-85 age range will become a different Lodge when it brings in another 10 members in the 35-55 age range. But, that is the way Odd Fellowship has developed and grown over the past 200 years. There must always be a new generation to carry on the name and the work of Odd Fellowship. The choice is obvious. Bring in new members and live. Fail to bring in new members and die.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
The natural process of an Odd Fellows lodge includes many dynamics, from who we admit as a member to how we decide to interpret the rituals and our codes. The decisions of an Odd Fellow lodge could be perceived as controversial to members of other lodges.
In my years as a member of this Order and having served in numerous capacities, from a lodge officer in every seat, a district deputy, and trustee and director of two Grand Bodies, a grand instructor three times, a Grand Patriarch and Grand Master, to being a well-read historian of the Order and writer of numerous pieces of legislation, I have never seen a universal way a lodge conducts its affairs. As much as a parent Grand Lodge would like to see all lodges be the same, they are not, nor shall they ever be the same. I write this piece because members must have an understanding of the differences occurring in our Order.
There are many factors which effect the personality of an Odd Fellows lodge, including the geography, the demographics of a community, the beliefs by our members, the education levels, financial availability, and others. We are definitely a diverse group, which sets us apart from other organizations, which is a positive factor in today’s social climate.
For example, on the one hand we may have a lodge belonging to a more liberal city, where the members may be more inclusive of who they admit and how they interpret the rituals and codes. Larger cities, mostly, offer our lodges prospective applicants from all social and ethnic backgrounds, whereas, a small rural town may have only one demographic. Or we may see a lodge in the middle of an agricultural setting – literally – where the workers come straight from the fields to the lodge, which would be almost, if not all, men. This happens. The same goes for geographical regions, where many of the residents are poorer, and another region where residents may be wealthier. These are some of the factors, which give our lodges different make-ups of members. They are not necessarily blended, but still all Odd Fellows.
Some of the differences I have seen over the years: Some members believe this is a Christian organization and its members should be Christian, where others admit all faiths and beliefs. Some members believe a “Creator and Preserver of the Universe” is “God”, but others do not, primarily because of their own backgrounds and upbringing. We have atheist and non-believers and people of varied religious beliefs in this Order. Some members believe this is an Order of non-LBGT members, whereas in larger cities, lodges admit members of the LBGT community. We have lodges with homeless and poor members, and we see lodges with wealthy and well-to-do members. Often, other lodge members will step up and pay another member’s dues.
In older Odd Fellow lodges, there are many lodges that maintain the alter in the center of the floor, as a matter of tradition and to preserve the integrity of the sacred area between the center of the floor and the station of the Noble Grand. Most lodges do not; the meaning of the aforementioned is lost to these lodges, which is their right.
The code instructs Vice Grands and Noble Grands to be able to recite the unwritten work before being allowed to serve in those capacities. This is rarely done, so lodges forgo this requirement. As a past grand instructor on multiple occasions, I saw very few who could recite the unwritten work from memory. Some lodges use the digital video recordings for their degree work and others, if they have the desire and the adequate number of members, may confer the degrees live instead of using the “DVD.” Some members frown on the use of digital degrees, which others praise it as a faster means of bringing in members.
During the opening of a lodge meeting some members read their responsibilities and duties with enthusiasm, some by memory, some not at all; some lodges skip the reading of the duties. Some skip the prayer. Some have a moment of silence during the prayer, out of respect for members of other faiths, who shall not repeat the Lord’s Prayer, as it is viewed strictly as from the New Testament (Bible).
It is a fact, that in many cities, rather than small towns, we find lodges having more members, where they are diverse, where the code and rituals are more likely going to meet challenges and adjustments to be socially acceptable to all their members. In this regard, it becomes a difficult process for an unyielding leader from another lodge or locality to impose a different interpretation of the ritual or code, without the risk of alienation, fracturing, or eliminating an entire group of members.
There are so many different ways our lodges do their business and conduct their meetings, they cannot all be conveyed in this writing. The point of this is to educate those who can read, that our lodges are different whether we like it or not. To become overly concerned or indifferent or even enraged at a lodge where you are not a member, is probably not going to work in the interest of all parties. In fact, a lodge being taken to task because of its practices may ignore outside suggestions to the point of creating a challenge.
Brothers and sisters, we find our common bond in the obligation we all took upon joining this Order, and we all call ourselves “Odd Fellows.” And, we have a rich history.
In Friendship, Love, & Truth,
Peter V. Sellars
Have fun is one of my favorite expressions. I say it all the time. I believe it’s integral to our survival. So much of what we do appears painful or at the very least perfunctory. But the question of how our group attracts new members should be integral to all that we say or do. The simple answer is to make our order as attractive as possible to people looking in. Many of our members and Odd Fellow lodges fall into a comfortable rut. Reciting ritual work or chanting something else from memory. While it may seem impressive to have committed something to memory, it is not attractive to someone looking in – on the contrary, it may seem belittling to someone new.
Many of us who have been in the Odd Fellows for years have a lot of mileage and experience to contend with, perhaps not all of it positive, but of course, negativity does not attract anyone, as the rules of attraction are simple. Remember when you were young, the most popular kids were generally the kids who sent a message of happiness. In my youth, the popular kids had the biggest parties, and tended to be having an exciting time every opportunity I had to interact with them. Of course, therefore they were popular, because they were greatly admired, and in many cases, emulated.
It’s common sense, really. Negativity, prejudice, hatred, despair, all succeed only in driving people away. Happiness is an attraction without qualification. I’ve always been surprised by many who run for office in our order, because they often descend into name-calling, obsessive hatred, pettiness, and yet are shocked when they fail to get elected. People are generally smarter than we give them credit for. Most people want happiness, pleasant interactions, truth, and yes, love. After all, it is the implication our order sends. Those of us who want to lead by fear, or punitive behavior, are only kidding ourselves. Leadership means to lead by example, not by wielding a club, but extending an open hand and heart.
Of course, it’s a trend of those of us who have been in the order for a while to look at the newest among us with suspicion, but this distrust is generally borne out of ignorance. Most people, young or old, want mainly to be known as good human beings; it’s hard to imagine anyone wishing it any other way. The older members are used to tradition, while the younger members seek innovation, and neither direction is bad, so somehow both must be encouraged with the same level of energy.
Finally, my deeply wondrous theory of “have fun” has some basis in fact, since the Odd Fellow lodges that tend to grow are those with the most events and occasions. It’s hard to imagine a lodge with very few active members, no events, no refreshments, and punitive behavior growing. It will not happen. The straightest line is the most direct and easiest path. Both smiles and frowns are infectious, but smiles attract, while frowns repel. If we want growth, a smile is what will bring them in and keep them happy.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles