As a Lodge sees its membership slowly decline, the natural and understandable tendency is to make it easier for potential new members to join. Some Odd Fellows Lodges rush potential new members from application to initiation in a matter of weeks (or even days) – delighted that they have found a warm body willing to join the fraternity.
That is a mistake.
For both the short-term and long-term health of the Odd Fellows Lodge, it’s best to make the goal of membership more challenging, not less. It is best to thoroughly vet the applicant, and make sure that they fully understand what Odd Fellowship is all about, and what their obligations encompass. A knowledgeable member is a committed member, and committed members will sustain our fraternity. Being a member of our Odd Fellows fraternity can be life-enhancing for the newcomers. But Lodges have to determine if the new members will be true Odd Fellows – embracing friendship, love and truth – and the elevation of character. The Lodge should contemplate what the potential new Odd Fellow will bring to the table. Just as fraternal life can enrich the life of the new member, the equation should be balanced: What can the new member bring to amplify the life of the Lodge?
Let me give you a real-life example.
My own Lodge – Davis, California #169 – for the past twenty years has used a specific process to move applicants from application to initiation. The process often takes six months or longer. Also, for the past twenty years, my Lodge has had a NET GAIN in membership, year after year. We started this defined process two decades ago with a Lodge of 35 members that did little more than have meetings. Today we have a Lodge of 350 members, with two busy meetings every month, and 70 active Lodge committees. Those Lodge committee run the gamut from administrative committees (like Bylaws, Finance, Visiting, Membership, Historical, etc.) to social committees (like Hiking, Thursday Club Night and Trivia, Comedy Club, OddtoberFest, St. Patrick’s Day Party, etc.), to community-serving (like Bingo, Music, Taste of Davis, Breakfast with Santa, Zombie Bike Ride, etc.). The numerous committees are a very important component of attracting new members (particularly younger members) and in keeping them engaged over time.
We require applicants for membership (we call them “Pledges”) to work with an active Membership Committee and accomplish certain tasks. We actually have a five-step process from application to initiation. The process includes reading a “Pledge Book” which we have prepared that fills them in on our Lodge and on Odd Fellowship, taking a test (based on the Pledge Book) and passing that test. We then require that the Pledges interview a set number of members of the Lodge with pre-set questions. These interviews are a great way to break the ice and encourage folks to talk to each other and get to know each other. And members enjoy being interviewed and talking about themselves. Of course the Pledges must go through an interview themselves before the Lodge can ballot on them, and ultimately initiate them. At the present time, we have 26 applicants for membership going through this Pledge process.
Joining an Odd Fellows Lodge should be made a coveted goal, where new members learn about the Order and learn about the Lodge – not just a train ticket to be punched. Ultimately, you get knowledgeable, involved, and committed members.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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