By far the most important issue facing Odd Fellowship is our membership decline. This issue has faced us for three generations, and continues to vex us today. It is, and should be, the number one challenge for our Order, and it should be – without doubt – the number one issue facing our Sovereign Grand Lodge.
Yet, at SGL sessions, the issue of membership decline is barely mentioned, let alone addressed. It is the elephant (indeed, the mammoth) in the middle of our Odd Fellows’ living room. Yet the representatives at Sovereign don’t just tiptoe around it – they make believe it isn’t there. How does Sovereign address the membership issue? When the Chair of the SGL Membership Committee finally raised the flag of danger on membership declines and, in an article stated that our Order would die out unless we addressed it, he was roundly criticized by some for saying the Order was in trouble, and generally ignored by most at Sovereign.
Sovereign’s program to address membership declines is to issue nifty certificates to units that show a 2% increase in their membership. Let me explain why this 2% approach is simply an exercise in futility. Now, don’t get me wrong. Everyone likes to get a nifty certificate of recognition. But a 2% growth for a unit is nothing to cheer about, and it won’t solve the problem of our declines in membership. Let me give you two reasons why a 2% target is not a solution at all. Let’s start with a fairly large Lodge (by Odd Fellows standards) – say 50 members. If that Lodge were to add 1 member in a year, that Lodge has reached its goal and they would receive the 2% certificate. But it would take that Lodge some 50 years (a couple of generations) to add the members needed to replace the aging population of the Lodge. Yet that Lodge doesn’t have 50 years, particularly when the majority of its members are in their 70’s, 80’s or older. Let’s take a look at the small Lodge of 10 members. How in the world does a 2% growth rate even apply to such a Lodge? Do they meet their goal if they add 1 member every 5 years?
And the numbers from SGL bear out the dilemma we face. The latest statistics shared by SGL can be found in the Advance Reports of the Sovereign Grand Lodge dated 2017. The report, at page 196, shows that from December 31, 2015 to December 1, 2016, the following declines occurred: the number of Odd Fellows Lodges declined by 1.74%; the number of Rebekah Lodges declined by 4.51%; the number of Encampments declined by 3.81%; the number of Ladies Encampment Auxiliaries declined by 7.45%; the number of Cantons (PM) declined by 4.42%; the number of Ladies Auxiliaries (PM) declined by 3.80%. Spanning the same period of time, the membership numbers of Odd Fellows declined by 2.27%; the number of members of Rebekah Lodges declined 2.99%; Encampment membership dropped 1.84%; LEA dropped 6.48%; PM dropped 2.26%; LAPM dropped a staggering 9.21%. These are significant and troubling declines. We cannot sustain the Order with these declines. We don’t have 50 years.
The problem is clear. It has been clear for decades. The situation doesn’t improve when we ignore it or hope it will just fix itself and go away.
So, what’s the solution? Are we destined to join the hundreds of fraternal orders that have sprung up in North America over the centuries, functioned for awhile, and then faded away; are we destined to be an historical footnote? It doesn’t have to be this way. The solution is right before our very eyes. We just need to open our eyes to see it. The solution is reflected in a few Lodges around the country. While the Order has been diminishing for decades, there are a few Lodges that have bucked the trend. While the vast majority of Lodges are declining, these few Lodges – at the very same time – show net increases in membership year after year. The few Lodges that are showing net growth in membership year after year prove that Odd Fellowship is relevant and can attract the men and women of the 21st Century. These growing Lodges are laboratories of success. They point the way to the future.
Based on the success stories reflecting in these Lodges, here are my Seven Steps to Success for the future growth and progress of this Order:
1. Separate but equal branches for men and women are no longer appropriate or viable in the 21st Century. Branches must merge going forward. PM and LAPM; then LEA and Encampment; and finally Rebekahs and Odd Fellows. We must align into one Lodge with many degrees. This new paradigm is a process that can be accomplished within 5 years.
2. Sovereign Grand Lodge must restructure itself. It is grossly unfair to have this Order run by a small minority of members. Why should a jurisdiction with 200 members have the same voting power as a jurisdiction with over 2,000 members?
3. The Ritual of this Order must be updated and modernized. Odd Fellowship is supposed to be non-sectarian. The Ritual must become user-friendly to all genders, all races, and people of all faiths and beliefs.
4. Social meetings of the Lodge should be encouraged. Formal Lodge meetings with full ritual and regalia should be reduced to no less than four and no more than six per year.
5. Lodges must become part of their communities, not isolated and shut away from their communities. Lodges must reach out to undertake community projects. Lodges must open their doors to the community from time to time, and must have distinctive signage so that the community knows this is a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
6. Lodge Halls must be places where turmoil and bickering is left behind. The Lodge experience should be enjoyable. Lodges should provide for an active social life and programs for members.
7. Lodge membership should reflect the community, in gender, ages, race and ethnic background. Every generation – from teenagers to those in their 90’s – should be reflected in the membership of the Lodge. Every Odd Fellows Lodge must have women as members. Twenty years after membership in Odd Fellows Lodges was opened to women, it is time for every Lodge to have women among its members. There is no longer any viable reason or excuse not to do so.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California