1. Membership has fallen to less than 15. This is a pretty big red flag. We all know that only about half the members on the books really show up for meetings. Accordingly, if your Lodge has 14 members on the books, it’s likely you really only have 6 or 7 active members – and it goes down from there. A bare quorum to have a Lodge is 5. Frankly, that number is more of an historical paean (Thomas Wildey started his Lodge with 5) than a realistic number for a functional Lodge. To have 5 members means you can go through the charade of a meeting. Having 6 or 7 isn’t much better. If your Lodge has not brought in a new member in years, you are in trouble.
2. No member under 65 years of age. If your Lodge’s members are all 65 and older, your Lodge is flirting with disaster. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with members in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond (I’m in my 70’s myself). But if ALL your members are in that age bracket, it means your Lodge has been asleep for at least a generation – more likely two generations – in the quest to bring in new members. A healthy Lodge has members of all ages. As older members move on or pass on, there has to always be another generation available to learn the ropes and take over. That’s what allows a fraternity to survive for centuries.
3. Meetings in the afternoon. I find this next to incredible, but there are actually Lodges that schedule their Lodge meetings in the middle of the afternoon. I scratch my head in wonder at this. If your Lodge has done this, then the Lodge has hung up a virtual sign that says: “No young people and no working people need apply.”
4. Inadequate signage. There are Odd Fellows Lodges – many of them located in the heart of the downtown – that are almost invisible because they have grossly inadequate signage. An old sign that says IOOF that is next to the roof line is inadequate. A small sign over or next to a doorway doesn’t do it. You have to tell the community who you are and where you are. Lodges without adequate signage are subtly saying to the community: “Don’t bother us. Keep away.”
5. Lodge supported by associate members. I have visited Lodges that are, in reality, out of business, but they continue to function through associate members. In fact, many of these Lodges function because the members have reciprocal associate member status. Rather than bring in new members, these revolving associate members prop up a Lodge that would collapse on its own. This may keep the Lodge afloat for a few years, but inevitably, the Lodge is just a facade, supported by the kindness of brothers and sisters from other Lodges. Rather than recruit new members from the community, they just rely on associates.
6. Officers holding long terms in office. A sure way to stifle a Lodge is for one or two members to keep a death grip on Lodge offices. There is certainly something to be said for desk officers serving longer terms, perhaps up to 3 or 5 years, and sometimes Noble Grands must serve more than one term. But this should be the exception, not the rule. It is not healthy for a Lodge to be controlled by one or two members.
7. Lodge lacks accessibility. Most Lodges have two stories, sometimes three. If access is limited, the Lodge cannot be open to all members of the community – in particular members who are disabled in some way. A primal goal of every Lodge is to make all its facilities accessible. When facilities are accessible, the Lodge can schedule community events and rent out the Hall when not in Lodge use. Without access, the Lodge is not being fully utilized. When you open the Lodge to the community, you encourage members of the community to join.
8. No community events or projects. If a Lodge has no community outreach, and not even one project to benefit the community, it is a Lodge with no visibility, and little purpose. Virtually no one wants to join a Lodge where all the members do is sit around and recite from a small red book. Every Lodge should be visible in the community, and every Lodge should have at least one community project. Failure to do so will make it pretty hard to bring in new members, particularly younger members.
9. No fun for members. A Lodge of Odd Fellows is not a church, synagogue or temple. A Lodge is part of a fraternal order. And an important element of fraternal life is a social life. Lodges that have no little or social life are boring Lodges. Who wants to remain a member of a boring Lodge? Who wants to apply to join a boring Lodge?
If you see one or two of these warning signs in your Lodge, it’s time to take some action. If you see three or four of these warning signs, the time to take some action is urgent. Five or six of these signs should be a flashing red light of an emergency. And if your Lodge displays more than six of these signs, it may already be too late for your ship to avoid the iceberg.
But I won’t leave you without recourse. It’s not the intent of DMC to simply alert you to danger. We wish to also give you some tools to steer away from danger, save your Lodge, and give you some ideas to grow your Lodge in your community. So, next week’s DMC Newsletter will be dedicated to the following subject: How to Resuscitate a Dying Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California