It’s a new Year in a new Century, and Odd Fellowship has to find new ways to be modern and relevant in a rapidly changing society.
The old ways are not working so well, and our Order in North America continues to lose members. Running our Lodges and our Order in the same old ways will render the same old results; and that’s just unacceptable – we cannot sustain these losses indefinitely. We have to be open to new ideas and new ways. Lodges that are evolving and changing the way they do business in this new Century have shown that they can flourish and increase membership.
Regrettably, there are too many Lodges that haven’t added new members in years. There are also too many Lodges that have added some new members, but those new members are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Unless Lodges start bringing in new members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, they are inevitably going to go out of business as members age and no new members in sufficient numbers are available to take their places. While the human lifespan may typically be 80-90 years, a fraternity has the potential to live for centuries. We have Odd Fellows Lodges in California that have been around for over 150 years, and have the potential to continue for many more years. But that potential can only be realized if there is a fairly constant flow of new members. The caveat to all this is that the new members cannot be of the same age range as existing members. If we have a Lodge where all the members are in their 70’s, it will not do for the Lodge to initiate a dozen new members who are also in their 70’s. In ten years, that Lodge will have a bunch of members who are all in their 80’s, and who wants to join a Lodge of great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers? It’s vitally important that the Lodge bring in members from all generations. Otherwise, the Lodge will have generational gaps that are very difficult, if not impossible, to fill in.
Generation X is that generation of people who were born in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Millennial Generation is that generation of people who were born in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The younger members of Generation X are in their 40’s. The Millennials are in their 30’s and 20’s. These are the folks who we must bring into our Lodges to sustain us through the 21st Century. If Lodges only bring in new members who were from the Baby Boom Generation, we are bringing in folks in their 60’s and 70’s.
And we should not make it too easy for people to join our fraternal order. Some Lodges are so happy to find a warm body who submits an application that they rush them to initiation. It does us no good to initiate a new member only to have that member leave the order after a few months or a year because they are disillusioned or disappointed. It is far better that we develop a process by which a potential new member can learn about Odd Fellowship and the Lodge before they are permitted to join by way of initiation. They need to know what they are getting into, and the Lodge members need to know who this new member really is.
Davis Lodge #169 (my Home Lodge), at my urging, developed and instituted a special process for applicants, and we have been using this process for the past decade. It’s worked pretty well. Over that past decade, my Lodge has shown a net increase every year. In 2017 alone, we initiated 39 new members into the Lodge. We have so many applicants for membership that we break them into three groups and hold three initiations every year. The new members we bring in range in age from the 20’s to the 80’s, and are enthusiastic about being Odd Fellows. Over 90% of the new members obtain their three degrees within months of initiation. The process we use is interesting (perhaps counter-intuitive) but it works. You see, we don’t make it easy on applicants. We give each applicant a “Pledge Book” and we expect them to read it. The Pledge Book tells them about Odd Fellowship and the Davis Lodge. We encourage applicants to join one or more of our Lodge’s 57 committees. We also expect the applicants to attend a minimum of 8 Lodge social meetings or events, and to interview a minimum of 13 Lodge members (the Pledge Book contains one-page interview forms). The interviews, in particular, are useful as they allow the applicants to get to know the members, and they also allow the members to get to know the applicants. The process takes at least 4 months, and often 6 months, before the applicant is interviewed, voted on, and initiated. We lose some applicants along the way. But the ones who make it through the process are better informed, and are more committed to becoming Odd Fellows and staying the course.
My own Lodge doesn’t recruit new members any more. We haven’t done so for years. Some of our applicants contact us through our website, or stop by the Lodge Hall because our doors are typically open and our signage invites people in. But most of our applicants come to us because of our Lodge’s visibility in the community through our contributions to the town, and the community events that we host. Members of the public are invited by Lodge members to attend our numerous Lodge events (e.g. live music once a month open to the public, monthly bingo for the community, breakfast with Santa, Taste of Davis, the Davis Chocolate Festival, the Davis Classic Film Festival, the annual New Year’s Eve Party, and many more), and they want to learn more about Odd Fellowship and the Lodge. I imagine this is the way Odd Fellowship was in the 19th Century – when the Odd Fellows Lodge was the place to be and the best show in town.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California