Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

Declining membership is not a condition unique to Odd Fellowship.   All fraternal orders have witnessed a decline in members over the past decades.    Let’s look at the Freemasons, the largest fraternal order in North America.   There was a report and article published by National Public Radio (NPR) on November 28, 2020 which details the challenges faced by Freemasons (and other fraternal orders).  This DMC article will be quoting widely from the NPR article, because what is happening with Masonic Lodges is also happening with Odd Fellows Lodges. 

At one point in time, Masons could count over 4 million members in the USA.   At the high-water mark, about 4.5% of all American men were members of that order.   But in recent years, Masonic membership has dropped roughly 75% from its peak.   Sound familiar?   It should.   The same has been occurring with the Knights of Pythias, the Elks, the Moose, the Redmen, the Odd Fellows, and dozens of other fraternities.    There was a time when the movers and shakers of the community were members of a fraternity –  Congressmen, Senators, Presidents, Mayors, judges, bankers, doctors, lawyers, and wealthy landowners.  Those folks have now moved and shaken themselves elsewhere.   Lodges are left with fewer and fewer professional people, fewer and fewer folks who can manage money or property, effectively run meetings, and effectively wend their way through personnel, legal, financial, and property issues. 

As noted in the NPR article:  “Many Freemasons see the decline in membership as symptomatic of the overall decline in all voluntary associations, rather than a problem specific to their fraternity.   Membership has been steadily falling in everything from church groups and school associations to labor unions and Greek organizations, according to a 2019 congressional report.   The Joint Economic Committee report found that membership rates in some organizations fell from 75% in 1974 to 62% in 2004.   At 52% the drop was steepest among fraternal organizations such as the Freemasons or the Knights of Columbus.”

I agree that the decline is attributable to a decline generally in voluntary associations – certainly, in the 21st Century, more and more people (particularly those under the age of 35) are spending time in the virtual world of social media, television, and apps, rather than in live social interaction.  But I do not discount the truth that our declining membership is also due – at least in part – to our own fraternal failings.   Too many Lodges and Lodge members have become locked into the status quo.   Too many Lodges and Lodge members have become complacent and lazy.   They either refuse to change to fit the times or don’t know how to change.   They are relatively content with doing things just the way they have always been done during their years in the order.    And they are content in doing so for the remainder of the time that they are alive.  Consciously or subconsciously, they believe that new members might bring change to that status quo, and that is unacceptable.   In particular, bringing women or people of color into the Lodge is just a bridge too far for some of them – even though Odd Fellowship professes to eschew discrimination.   But de facto discrimination is just as wrong as de jure discrimination.   The reality is that too many Lodges have become senior centers – with virtually all members in their 70’s and 80’s.   Realistically, men and women in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s (the next generation) don’t want to sit around in darkened rooms reading passages from a small ritual book.   If they finally leave the isolation of their electronic gear, they want community involvement and social interaction.   In other words, they want to do good things for other people and the planet, and they want to have some fun.   Secret signs and passwords are a quaint historical affectations, but they don’t attract members and they don’t sustain membership.   Unless fraternal orders – including Odd Fellowship – are willing to evolve to fit our times, we run the risk of becoming curious historical footnotes.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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