Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The Proceedings of the 164th Annual Session of the Grand Lodge of California have just been published and, as always, this publication provides a great deal of information about our Order in California. As to membership statistics, the annual report is always a “good news-bad news” document. We have 117 Odd Fellows Lodges in California. On the “good news side”, we see that there are some thriving Lodges in this jurisdiction, including 17 Lodges showing 50 or more members on their books, and 6 of those Lodges showing membership rolls of 100 or more. However, that statistic is more than offset by the “bad news” which shows 15 Lodges with 9 or fewer dues paying members on their books, and fully 41 Lodges (that’s over one-third of our California Lodges) with 14 or fewer members on their books. Some of these Lodges are being kept afloat by associate members, and some of them are barely making the minimum quorum of 5 members for a meeting. How long can they continue to hold on?
The answer to that question is obvious. Members continue to age and a Lodge composed of members in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s will not last another generation. And that’s a travesty for Lodges that have been around for 100 or 150 years. Past members of those Lodges knew full well that a fraternal order only survives when it brings in new members. They did that year after year and decade after decade. But, regrettably, there are Lodges today that have not brought in new members for years. There are other Lodges that have brought in some new members, but not in sufficient numbers to balance out members lost, resigned or withdrawn. And there are Lodges that have only brought in new members of the same generation as existing members – that does little for the future of that Lodge.
So, we as a fraternal order in California are at a crossroads. How do we move forward into the future? For the key to the future, it’s often useful to take a look at the past.
It’s an interesting and informative endeavor to take a look at the old minutes of your Lodge. As you examine the minutes of your Lodge from the 1950’s or the 1920’s or the 1800’s, you will find that your Lodge was in almost every case looking inward. That inward focus seemed to work quite well in those days. But to be a successful Lodge in the 21st Century, we must have much more of an outward focus. Let me explain what I mean.
In prior generations, Lodges operated in secrecy, behind closed doors in formal meetings with full ritual and regalia. Lodges supported Odd Fellows charities and little else. That was certainly a successful formula in the days before automobiles, airplanes, television, radio and movies. Lodges in the those days were the social centers for members outside of their homes. Society changed rapidly in the 20th Century, but Odd Fellows did not change as quickly. Virtually all Lodges continued to focus inward. The result, has been a rather breathtaking decline in Lodge membership in California and throughout the United States. There are jurisdictions across the nation which once had tens of thousands of members, and today have less than 200 members in the entire state.
The failure, ultimately, is the failure to look outward. What do I mean when I say “look outward”?
There are a few, but growing, number of Lodges that have finally “gotten it” and are looking outward. It’s a relatively new philosophy but for those Lodges that employ this outward view, it is working. A Lodge that focuses outward must do five things:
1. First and foremost, it must make the Lodge Hall visible and inviting. Bright IOOF signage is a must. The Lodge Hall must be clean and attractive inside and out. The Lodge Hall must be kept in good repair.
2. The Lodge must be open to the community. Invite the public into the Lodge for tours and events. Let community groups use the Lodge Hall from time to time. Put on events for the community at the Lodge Hall.
3. Reach out to the community to do good works. Adopt a community project or two. Scholarships? Sponsor a kid’s sports team? Community clean up? You pick the project.
4. Don’t be afraid to invite diverse members of the community – including the great ethnic diversity that makes this nation so special – to consider applying for membership. In particular, a Lodge that does not include women in its membership will find itself left behind in our pluralistic society.
5. You have all heard the ancient question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one sees it, has it really fallen? Publicity, publicity, publicity – those are the keys to a successful outreach effort. Let the community know what you are going to do, what you are doing, and also what you have done.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master