2 years ago, my initial projection for the future of the IOOF in America, as it existed at that time, was a 9-year future. This was not based upon a guess, but rather an analysis of several inter-related figures. Some figures can be changed but others are unalterable. Here is a list thus far.

Since at least half of all states are now at or below two hundred members, here are figures as they will appear. I can keep all advised as to the figures on a yearly basis.

First, of course, is human life expectancy, which, according to national statistics, is 78.8 years. Remarkably, this is more than 2 years less than many other countries. However, life expectancy is more variable than most figure. Most think that if one lives to the age of 71, it is a fifty-fifty chance to live to 78, however, it is more optimistic than that, because if one has lived to 71, one has already bested a number of other roadblocks, so it is more likely that one might live to the age of 82, for example. So, by that figure, we will lower the total membership in a state standing with two hundred members by a third to 133 members, within 7 years.

Second, of course, as quoted by many members, is active membership involvement. This is just as important as life expectancy, as many members, are rarely, if ever, involved in a lodge directly. In my own lodge, half of all members are rarely in attendance, and belong in main to be enrolled in a camp, or to support a relative, or employment, or for some other reason. But again, let’s be fair, and call that, on average, a third of all remaining members, so that lowers our total by forty-one members to ninety-two members in total.

Third, this figure becomes more based upon conjecture, but as a state’s numbers decrease, this figure will increase until it becomes one of the more dominant figures. We can call it proximity membership. As lodges close and consolidate, while some members will be willing to make longer trips, others will fall off the membership charts by just refusing to drive ever increasing distances. Currently, a member and I drive almost an hour to help another lodge keep its quorum. We would not be willing to do this if the lodge were any further away. For the time being, we will continue with the optimism, and we will figure that twenty members will refuse to drive more than thirty miles on a regular basis to a lodge meeting. Total remaining active statewide membership – 72 members.

Fourth, infirmity. Over the age of seventy-two, members begin to become increasingly infirm, some becoming incapacitated, others approaching senility, or other levels of incompetence. While they haven’t died, they fail to attend. Attendance can be cut short by simple night blindness or other personal factors. Again, let’s be kind, and subtract only fifteen members with a relative infirmity, or something too intrusive to allow us to maintain viable attendance. Fifty-seven members (statewide) still in attendance.

Fifth, membership overlap. SGL is already working on this, but it is an important aspect, that we have ignored for years. It affects other groups more than the Odd Fellows, but the Rebekahs, for example, have many members who joined just to be allowed to run for various positions. I, for example, have been a Rebekah for many years, but rarely attend a meeting. Subtract seven members from this list.

This leaves us with fifty active members in a jurisdiction that began with two hundred. Other factors can also be figured in, but this would be the absolute lowest figure in which to maintain five lodges in a state with ten active members per lodge. Less than this figure is not really a jurisdiction. To be frank, my estimate of seven remaining years is extremely optimistic, for a number of reasons. First, the median age is probably greater than seventy. Also, other factors are probably more influential than I suggest. Just like other modern scientific philosophies, there may also become a “tipping point” – a point at which a number of jurisdictions may no longer be viable. Some states are already at this point.

Of course, there are remedies. We could get some younger members. We could let them lead. But we must learn to get out of their way. If we don’t do something, and this part is clear, this is the inevitable result. I might be off by a year or so, but don’t bet your lodge on it.

In F., L., & T.,

Rick Boyles
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Jurisdiction of California

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