Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Just last week I heard about a Lodge that is about to fold it’s tents. A long-time member of that Lodge had just passed away, and “suddenly” the Lodge membership fell below the minimum of 5. They no longer had a quorum. Because they had no quorum, they couldn’t meet, they couldn’t operate as a Lodge, and they couldn’t even vote to consolidate with another Lodge. The remaining 4 members were all in their upper 70’s and 80’s in age. How did this “suddenly” occur?
Well, in truth, the demise of this Lodge was not “sudden”. It occurred over decades. The members of the Lodge should have seen it coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and 5 years ago. Those Lodge members, past and present, are culpable and they are responsible for the death of that Lodge. The Lodge members over the past two, or perhaps even three, decades ignored the previous hundred years when prior generations of members started that Lodge and worked hard to build it. The Lodge members over the past two or three decades were more concerned with maintaining the status quo. They were absolutely comfortable to continue doing things just the way they had always done them. They eschewed bringing in new members because that might result in changes. And so, over the years, the Lodge lost members who moved away, withdrew or passed away. And the Lodge did not bring in sufficient new members to replace them. Oh, they might have brought in a cousin or an uncle, but the handful of new members they brought in did not replace the volume losses, and the new members were all of the same age as the existing members – no members of a new generation were brought in. And so, in 2017, the few remaining Lodge members were all in their 80’s and 90’s, with one member in his late 70’s, and the inevitable happened – an elderly member died and the quorum was lost. No one was left in the Lodge to carry on. They had skipped two full generations of potential new members. All the work of starting a Lodge and building a Lodge in that community was and is lost. All because the members got lazy, and complacent, and cared only about their own comfort, and not the well-being of Odd Fellowship.
We must never forget that Odd Fellowship is a fraternal order, and the first responsibility of a fraternal order is to bring in new members. A fraternal order can exist and last indefinitely, BUT ONLY if the members bring in new members in the next generation. As humans we have a life span of 100 years, if we are extremely fortunate. A fraternity can last for centuries, if it replenishes the membership with the next generation. It does little value for a fraternity of 60 and 70 year-old members to bring in a group of applicants who are also 60 and 70 years of age. In 10 years, that fraternity will have members who are in their 70’s and 80’s and will have skipped two generations of potential members. There will be very few potential members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who wish to join a fraternity of septuagenarians and octogenarians.
Every single Lodge is at risk of this generation-skipping syndrome – and if not treated, it is fatal. My own Lodge – Davis #169 – is large and vigorous, but out of curiosity, I examined the register of members of my Lodge the other day and found some startling statistics. That register has the signature and date of initiation of every member since the Davis Lodge was instituted in 1870. From 1870 to 2017, the register shows that 744 men and women have joined. But here is what I found when I looked back at prior decades. In the decade of 1940-49, a total of 39 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1950-59, 38 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1960-69, 19 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1970-79, 9 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1980-89, 8 new members joined the Lodge. And in the decade of 1990-99, 22 new members joined the Lodge. In total, in that span of 60 years, only 135 members joined the Lodge – that’s an average of 2.25 new members per year. In particular, in the 20 years encompassing 1970-89, only 17 members joined – that’s an average of less than one new member per year. When I joined my Lodge in 2004, my Lodge was just like most Lodges in California – in trouble with declining membership. My Lodge had less than 30 members on the books, and could barely muster a dozen members for a meeting.
Soon after I joined, however, I was elected Noble Grand and served in that position for four years, and an interesting thing happened. In the 13-year time period 2004- 2017, we have had 336 new members join the Davis Lodge – that translates into an average of 25.8 new members initiated every YEAR. We have added almost as many new members in the past 13 years as joined in the prior 134 years.
How is this possible?
This dramatic turn-around happened because we changed the attitude, culture and direction of the Lodge. We stopped being complacent and comfortable with the status quo, because, candidly, that status quo was not working. We re-emphasized the fraternal aspect of our fraternity – we started having fun in the Lodge with committees planning all sorts of social events for the Lodge members and families. We re-emphasized our outreach into and involvement with the community, opening our Lodge doors and windows to our town and organizing numerous events to do good works to engage and help the community. We put out notices and press releases and became visible. We re-emphasized membership development. And that membership development became easier and easier because we were having fun and we were helping the community.
This is not rocket science, Brothers and Sisters. Lodges require new members to continue their existence. But no one wants to join a boring Lodge that does little more than hold meetings and schedule an occasional potluck. Certainly, such a boring Lodge will not attract the young men and women of the 21st Century who are VITAL to the continued life of our fraternal order.
F – L – T
Pasts Grand Master