Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
How the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time in America, Odd Fellows was the largest fraternal order boasting over 1 million members in North America. However, since those halcyon days, Odd Fellowship, year after year, and decade after decade, has hemorrhaged members. The decline in membership has been steady and debilitating and has continued for over three generations.
Today, the numbers will shock you.
I have recently reviewed the 2017 “Advance Reports” of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, and here are some statistics that will be of interest to every true Odd Fellow and Rebekah:
1. Total Membership as of December 31, 2016. Worldwide, there were 103,116 Odd Fellows. Worldwide, there were 64,184 Rebekahs. Worldwide, the Encampment had 31,861 members. Worldwide, the Patriarchs Militant had 3,076 members. And L.E.A. had 12,944 members worldwide; L.A.P.M. had 828 members. Junior Odd Fellows Lodges had 38 members; Theta Rho Girls’ Clubs had 214 members; and United Youth Groups had 90 members – again, worldwide.
2. Total Decreases in Membership. Worldwide, there were losses in membership year over year. Odd Fellows decreased by 2,392; Rebekahs decreased by 1,975; Encampment decreased by 597; L.E.A. decreased by 897; Patriarchs Militant decreased by 71; and L.A.P.M. decreased by 84.
3. Odd Fellows Membership in North America. In the States of the United States and the Provinces of Canada, December 31, 2016, Odd Fellows membership stood at 33,745, in 1,236 Lodges (down from 1,270 Lodges in the previous year). The largest jurisdiction was California, with 4,449, followed by Pennsylvania at 2,173 members. Interestingly, 1,172 of the California members are women, but only 143 of the Pennsylvania members are women. Only seven other jurisdictions have more than 1,000 members: Illinois, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia. Juxtaposed to that, there are 19 jurisdictions each with less than 300 members.
4. Rebekah Membership in North America. In the States of the United States and the Provinces of Canada, December 31, 2016, Rebekah membership stood at 20,454, in 835 Lodges (down from 899 Lodges in the previous year). The largest jurisdiction was Ontario, with 1,799, followed by California at 1,549 members. Only one other jurisdiction has more than 1,000 members – Oregon. On the other hand, there are 30 jurisdictions each with less than 300 members.
5. Encampment Membership in North America. In the States of the United States and the Provinces of Canada, December 31, 2016, Encampment membership stood at 3,531, in 276 Encampments (down from 290 Encampments in the previous year). The largest jurisdiction was Pennsylvania with 288, followed by California at 214 members. No other jurisdiction had more than 200 members. In fact, 36 jurisdictions each had less than 100 members. It’s further noteworthy that 15 jurisdictions each had less than 50 members.
6. Percentage Declines in Membership. Across the Order, it appears that the decline of membership, worldwide, in all Branches totaled 6,000 persons from 2015 to 2016, a rate of about 2.70%. Odd Fellows membership declined at a rate of 2.27%; Rebekah membership declined at a rate of 2.99%; Encampment membership declined at a rate of 1.84%; Patriarchs Militant membership declined at a rate of 2.26%; L.E.A. membership declined at a rate of 6.48%; L.A.P.M. membership declined at a rate of 9.21%.
What conclusions can we draw from these statistics?
Here is the problem: The Order continues on a decades-long downward spiral in North America that is not sustainable. In particular, the L.E.A. and the L.A.P.M. are not viable. New and younger members are not joining these Branches in sufficient numbers to sustain them as older members withdraw or pass away. This affliction troubling the L.E.A and L.A.P.M. is starting to affect the P.M. and the Encampment. Inevitably, the decline will become unsustainable for the Rebekahs and the Odd Fellows, as well. A organization declining at the rate of 3% per year will be in ruins in a generation.
Here is the solution: The Order is, frankly, doomed to oblivion, unless major adjustments are made to make it relevant in the 21st Century. If those adjustments are made, the Order can sustain itself and can grow. The Order must, in short, reinvent itself. Here is what the Order needs to do to reinvent, rejuvenate, restructure and rebuild IOOF in North America.
1. Membership growth is not achieved at Sovereign Grand Lodge, nor is it achieved at Grand Lodge. Membership growth is uniquely the child of each Lodge and the members of each Lodge. And each Lodge is a potential laboratory for membership development. During the years of the Order’s decline, a small number of Lodges have bucked the trend and have actually shown net increases in membership. For example, my own Lodge – Davis #169 in California – has shown steady net increases over the past 12 years, typically 10% per year. Therefore, if SGL studies the Lodges that show growth, SGL will learn what it takes to sustain and grow our Order. And what it takes is pretty simple: Members must enjoy the fraternal experience inside the Lodge with an active social life; and members must enjoy the fraternal experience outside of the Lodge with active involvement to better the community at large.
2. Sovereign Grand Lodge must be restructured. The current configuration allows every jurisdiction to have, essentially, the same voting power – much like a Senate. This stagnates the development of our Order, is an impediment to change, and is inherently unfair and unjust. Why should a jurisdiction of 100 members have the same or similar voting power as a jurisdiction with 1,000 members? The SGL must be restructured so that it is more like a House of Representatives, allowing members to vote in some proportion to their numbers in the Order.
3. Major changes must be made in the ritual of the Order. Ancient homilies like “bury the dead” or “educate the orphan” had great historical significance in our Order, but have little relevance to young men and women in 2017. Continued rote recitation of these sorts of words, or the singing of odes, or parading around the room in a certain order, or wearing tuxedos or long dresses in matching patterns – these sorts of things are out of step with modern society and do not resonate with the new eneration of members we need. Progress was made in this regard at the last SGL session when alternative Initiatory Degree works were approved. This is a step forward. But it has to occur with all degree work in all Branches. The ritual must be simplified and modernized.
4. We must inevitably face the reality that we will be more stable and stronger if we create one Lodge with many degrees, rather than continue being diffused in different Branches. We must fully integrate men and women, and all ethnic groups into our Order. And we must be truly non-sectarian. For the past three generations, while the membership in our Order has declined like a rock, Lodges and Grand Lodges and individual Lodges have – for the most part – continued to operate as usual. They continue to elect each other to office, they continue to “Grand Masters” with a full slate of officers, and District Deputy Grand Masters, and Grand Lodge Sessions spanning several days, and all the other trappings of the past – even when the membership in the jurisdiction has dropped to 300, 200, 100, or less.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again – yet expecting to have a different result. To survive in the 21st Century, Odd Fellowship must evolve and change.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California