If you say the words “Odd Fellows” to any random man or woman on the street and then ask them what is the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear those words, you are likely to get a blank stare. That’s because the vast majority of people haven’t even heard of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) and of the few who have heard of “Odd Fellows” most know next to nothing about the fraternity. Interestingly, the number of folks who don’t know anything about Odd Fellows increases as the age of the person you ask decreases. So, those born after 1990 will present not only a blank stare, but also a blank slate.
Bottom line: Odd Fellowship has not permeated into the consciousness of Generation X or Generation Y. That generally answers the question of why Odd Fellows Lodges have so few members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Interestingly, a century ago the majority of members in Odd Fellows Lodges were in those age brackets.
I recall a couple of years ago walking down the main street of a small Northern California town. A beautiful Odd Fellows Lodge building is located on that main street in the very center of that town. Out of curiosity, I stopped and talked to a few locals and asked them to direct me to the Odd Fellows Lodge Hall. Not one person could do so, nor did they even know there was such a Lodge Hall in the town. The icing on this cake (so to speak) occurred when I walked into a bakery on the main street located directly across the street from the Odd Fellows Lodge Hall, and spoke to a couple of the young employees of the bakery (who I would surmise were in their 20’s). They, too, were unable to tell me where the Odd Fellows Lodge was located. When I took them outside the bakery and pointed the Lodge out to them, right across the street, they expressed some surprise. They had never even noticed it – even though they had both grown up in that town, and were employed in a shop shop across the street from the Lodge.
What is the problem here?
The problem is that the vast majority of Odd Fellows Lodges operate in the shadows of society. They are invisible to the community. Instead of being a society with secrets, most Lodges have withered down to be secret societies – known only to the members. This is a recipe for failure. If a Lodge grows inward, it may provide a comfortable and well-known environment for existing members – but it is anathema to the quest for new members let alone the goal of Lodge sustainability and growth. And make no mistake about it: If a Lodge fails to bring in new members, it will eventually wither and die.
While the lifespan of an individual human can last for a century, a fraternal order can exist indefinitely (in theory) and certainly for many centuries. But that longevity is only true to the extent the fraternal order brings in new members – on a fairly regular basis – to provide the next generation of members and leaders for the Lodge. Odd Fellows Lodges can thrive and grow, but only if they open their doors and windows to the community at large.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.)
Jurisdiction of California
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