I admit it. When I first started out as Noble Grand of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) in Davis, California (Davis Lodge #169), I viewed it as a laboratory. Soon after I joined Odd Fellowship in 2004, I found a Lodge (and, frankly, an entire fraternal order) that was in trouble. It could only be described as membership free-fall. The Lodge was losing members. The entire Order was losing members.
Let’s face it. With a human lifespan topping out at 100 years (on a good day) a Lodge and a fraternal order has a responsibility to replace and renew its membership with new, younger members who can carry on after existing members drop out, move away, or pass away. A Lodge and an order can live for hundreds of years, if it ensures that it brings in more members than it loses (or at a minimum, brings in the same number of new members that it loses). And this growth was the track of Odd Fellowship in North America for the first century of its existence. From the 1820’s to the 1920’s, Independent Order of Odd Fellowship was alive and well, expanding and growing.
And then, in the 1920’s ennui set in. Little by little, membership declined. Bottom line, Lodges suffered net losses of members year after year. A net loss is a situation occurring when a Lodge loses more members than it gains in a particular year. Net losses had become the new normal. And that norm had continued for a century.
I found that to be true in my own Lodge when I joined in 2004. And so, I decided to change the trajectory of my Lodge. Because without change, the direction was obvious. We were losing more members than we were gaining and it would be only a matter of time before the Lodge would not be viable. I could see it happening right in my hometown. The Davis Rebekah Lodge (chartered in 1901) was on its last legs. The membership (on the books) was less than 10 ladies. The members were all in their 70’s and 80’s and they had not brought in any new members in some time (and when they did, the “new” members were in their 70’s and 80’s). I made sure to resurrect the Davis Rebekah Lodge by encouraging twelve members of my Odd Fellows Lodge (men and women of diverse ages) to join. And today, the Rebekah Lodge is alive and well with membership four times what it was 10 years ago.
So, the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge became my laboratory for change. I realized that I could not significantly affect my Grand Lodge or Sovereign Grand Lodge – but I could direct what happened locally, in my Davis Lodge. We went in a new direction. We were not content just to run formal meetings and confer degrees (although that is certainly important to a fraternal order). We also reached out into the community to do good works in town. And we created a number of committees to plan fun social events for our members, as well as community events for our town. Perhaps most importantly, we opened the doors and windows of our Lodge to our community – we became very visible and we invited diverse people – men and women of all ages – to join the Lodge.
And what’s the result of this grand experiment?
The new direction we traveled has brought our Davis Lodge membership from less than 30 (when I joined in 2004) to well over 300 (in 2022). A ten-fold increase. We currently have 324 members on our books, and 26 applicants for membership – a remarkable statistic in a pandemic. Every single year since 2004, we have had a net gain in members. More importantly, the membership is diverse. Our median age is just under 50, and we have many members in their 40’s, 30’s and 20’s (as well as those in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s). In other words, our membership reflects three generations and is well equipped to grow and prosper into the 21st Century.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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