What Membership Problem?
Two-fifths. Where I come from two-fifths is almost half. What does two-fifths signify in our order? Simply this – two-fifths of the U.S. jurisdictions (states and provinces in North America) have less than 200 members! Below the proverbial Mendoza line, a 200 average, the level of futility in baseball, where even if your defense is great, the batting average is too low to be acceptable in the Major Leagues. Yet these jurisdictions all get 2 voting reps each. Of course, these jurisdictions weren’t always comprised of just 200 members. They have sunk to this level. Obviously, a state that has lost members for many years will not level off at 200 members, it will surely decline to zero. No membership problem there.
Three-Fifths. Almost 60% of the U.S. Jurisdictions are below 300 members. These states also have sunk to new lows. No state in the Union even 20 years ago was at these levels. The general perception is that this membership decline is just a slow ebbing, but obviously that is not true when membership is undergoing such a precipitous decline. We are nearing a fatal tipping point. Some may say that we are already there. And yet, many resist discussing membership issues even now, or the popular answer is to set up the 337th five-year committee to study the issue. Many states may not have five years left.
Four-Fifths. 80% of the membership within the U.S. are now over the age of 65. In many jurisdictions the average age is much higher. Herein is the basic issue. If all your jurisdiction’s members are over 65, and life expectancy is 75, then your jurisdiction is already on a quickly deteriorating slide. Of course, the goal should be to attract the young, and the working class, but many jurisdictions seem to resist this. Some lodges meet during working hours, others spend much more time discussing the sick and distressed than anything else. Others devote their time to having events and other ritual behaviors seemingly based in the 1800s! To verify this, look at the outfits many still wear, period costumes from the 1920’s, formal wear now only rarely worn outside our order (although to paraphrase Billy Crystal – “you all look mahvelous!”), and pushing ideas that are abhorrent to much of the public who otherwise might consider joining.
Five-Fifths. 100% of our jurisdictions are tiny. Even California, which is double the populace of every other jurisdiction, is small, with only 4,200 members, yet, it is larger than the smallest 20 states combined! But ye in the smaller jurisdictions fear not, because your votes are 20 times more powerful than ours in California! Conversely, the Masons, who also have a membership decline but on a different scale, are many times larger. This is the other question. At one time, the Odd Fellows were doing at least as well as the Masons, what has made The Odd Fellows, in particular, decline so quickly? Let me suggest a few reasons for our decline:
- We are all elderly therefore we only attract the elderly. Attracting the young means we should try and be attractive to the young. My younger daughter, a psychology major, has attended only once and couldn’t stop giggling.
- We act as though we are a secret order, yet when we were a big group, everyone knew about us. We need to announce ourselves every way we can. Oddly enough, cold dark buildings look the same to everyone. Lighten up!
- We still think we are philosophically based in 1840. Many deny that anyone non-Christian can join. Why is this, exactly? Do we really think this is logical in today’s world?
- We run our meetings basically by reading tired documents littered with idiotic questions! The Noble Grand feels belittled if he/she has not read every word as mandated by SGL. Here again, time to lighten up! Of course, there are still 12 purists left in our order that demand rote memory recitals, but this truly looks and sounds insipid. Ask any new member or watch our videos. Truly onerous deadly boring flat speech. No wonder half the membership nods off at our meetings. I have seen many members in my own jurisdiction attend one or two meetings at their lodge, and never attend again. Why is this?
- Plenty of mean people in our order. Protecting their turf. Turning off outsiders. Earning their livings within the order without regard of the order at large. This is not what the order originally meant. Friendship, Love, and Truth, remember?
- Guilt Trippers. Many of us like to guilt trip our fellow members. Many lodges demand you keep up with each other. Of course, this is ludicrous. Every person is different! Some people even have jobs! Remember when you had a job?
- Tired events done to death. Some lodges have had the same tired events for 20 years and more. Yet, if you study attendance logs, the attendance sooner or later begins dropping. Time to shake things up. No one bobs for apples or pins the tail on the donkey, anymore, or maybe your lodge still does.
Just a few ideas. But something must be done and soon, or the states with 200 members will be gone, and the premise of ignoring membership issues believing they will go away will no longer hold water. If you’re angered by these ideas, let’s try the approach as suggested by SGL – first let’s verify everyone’s religious beliefs, second let’s circulate hate speech that may have been acceptable in 1840, third let’s promote droning on and on reciting 200 year old mantras, fourth let’s ignore new ideas, and lastly let’s set up five year plans to study issues that are already crystal clear to those who care to see them…
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles