Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Recently, I saw a photograph on Facebook of Lodge members celebrating a major anniversary of their Lodge’s institution and charter. The members were lined up with smiles on their faces, obviously pleased with the achievement. And, indeed, it was an achievement. The Lodge had sustained itself. The message of Odd Fellowship had been passed down from generation to generation to generation.
Yet, as I looked at the happy faces in that photograph, I was struck by something more ominous. Every person in the picture was over 65 years of age. To me, the emerging reality of this photo was that this Lodge had skipped two generations of members. The members of this Lodge had grown complacent over the years, and they had not brought in new members, or the members they had brought in were of the same generation as existing members. That is a recipe for the slow death of a Lodge. That Lodge will slowly fade away as members move away or pass away. All the hard work of all those prior generations that had brought the Lodge to this anniversary will have been for nought, and in the foreseeable future that Lodge will become an historical footnote. Regrettably, that is the state of many Lodges in this jurisdiction and around North America.
So, how do we attract younger members to join our Lodges?
This is not only an important question for every Lodge, but indeed it is an existential question for the Lodge and our Order. If a Lodge has virtually all members in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – that is a Lodge that has skipped two generations of members, and that is a Lodge that will inevitably be in trouble as the generation of current members “ages out”. There will be no one left to replace members who move away or pass away. And that is a Lodge on a track to oblivion.
But that begs the question. If you are in a Lodge composed almost entirely of older members, how do you attract the younger generations of new members? Easier said than done, of course, as we all tend to sponsor new members who are our peers. So, we find that the 60-year-old members tend to sponsor applicants in their 60’s, and the 70-year old members tend to sponsor applicants in their 70’s, and so on. There is, however, a path forward. The immediate goal for the older members should be to bring in applicants who are a decade younger – that is, a member who is in his/her 60’s should make efforts to bring in applicants in their 50’s, and a member who is in his/her 50’s should do their best to bring in applicants in their 40’s, etc. At the very least, if a Lodge has members in their 40’s and 50’s, that Lodge has established the next generation of leaders, and that Lodge has a path to the future.
The more difficult question is how does a Lodge bring in new members in their 30’s and 20’s? To be brutally frank, it’s probably not feasible for a Lodge of Septuagenarians to bring in young adults in this age range. After all, it is unlikely that a member of the Millennial generation has many shared interests with a member in his/her 80’s. And a member in his or her 20’s is unlikely to want to spend time in the Lodge Hall with their “grandma” and “grandpa”. So, what about Odd Fellowship is, or can be, of interest to the Millennial?
I ran across a recent article promulgated by CNN which talked about the issue of “rising loneliness in young adults – specifically young men and women under the age of 25″. Based on my own observations, I am confident that this rising level of loneliness applies as a modern social phenomenon to young adults even up to the age of 30. This disconnection and loneliness is a tragedy in today’s society, yet at the same time, it presents an opportunity to our fraternal order.
We tend to think of loneliness as a symptom of aging. Yet one study cited by CNN found that 40% of young people in the 16-24 age range felt lonely “often or very often,” compared to 27% of adults over 75. Young people may have their faces glued to their computer screens, iPads and iPhones, but their social integration may very well be lacking. Facebook and Snapchat may be popular among the young, but they are no substitute for actual flesh-and-blood human interaction. Lodges will be well-served if their future plans involve opportunities for younger men and women to find social interaction in the Lodge Hall such as dances, music venues, game nights, and also outside of the Hall in Lodge trips, hikes, bike rides, wine tasting, highway and community clean-up efforts.
F – L -T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California