Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

Strap on your seat belts.   In this article, I will offer the solution to IOOF’s declining membership problem. 

In 2024, I believe everyone in Odd Fellows’ leadership recognizes that the biggest single challenge facing our Order is declining membership.    This is really nothing new, nor is the decline in fraternal membership isolated only to our fraternity – it is a conundrum facing all fraternal orders.  Declining membership was not always the condition of our Order.  In the 1800’s membership in IOOF was growing, expanding and exploding across North America.   Lodges were popping up in every nook and cranny of the United States and Canada.   In those heady days of expansion, it was not uncommon for Lodges to have 300 or more members.   This growth continued (at a lesser, but steady pace) through the early 1900’s.   All units – including Rebekahs, Encampment, Cantons, LEA, and LAPM were growing, as were Junior Odd Fellows and Theta Rho.

This growth trajectory altered as society changed during the wars of the 20th Century, the Great Depression, and the evolution of our society which moved from an agricultural mode to an industrial mode, and then to a digital mode.   Science and technology brought dramatic changes to North America – cars, airplanes, telephones, television, cell phones, social media, artificial intelligence.   The changes continue today, and appear to be accelerating.   The reality is that for the last 50 years, Odd Fellowship has been steadily declining in membership, and several of our units are barely functional in some of our jurisdictions. 

So, what is the solution to our declining membership dilemma?   Has Odd Fellowship become a victim of time, to be put on the shelf of historical curiosities and anachronisms  along with paper maps, pagers, public telephone booths, disposable cameras, postcards, and encyclopedias? 

I say “no” – as long as we continue to evolve to fit our times.   In my opinion, the solution is right in front of us, if we care to open our eyes.

Here is the solution:   At the same time that we are experiencing declines in membership in our Lodges, there are a few Lodges that are showing increases in membership.   So, the solution should be obvious.   We need to dive deep with those growing Lodges, find out what they do and how they do it, and share that information with all Lodges.   This research cannot be done by an individual Lodge, nor can it be done at the Grand Lodge level.   This research can only be achieved by a concerted effort led by Sovereign Grand Lodge. 

But, sad to say, SGL leadership has failed to undertake that effort.   Let me give you just one example of what I am talking about.   For the past 20 years – that’s a “generation” in human terms – my own Lodge in Davis, California, has shown a net increase in membership every single year, and in that time we have grown from about 30 members, to well over 300 members.  (There are a few other Lodges in North America that have also shown remarkable and steady growth.)   However, in the past 20 years, no one (and I reiterate, no one) from SGL or SGL’s Membership Committee has ever reached out to us to ask how we have achieved a net increase in our membership year after year.  

You can’t solve a problem by ignoring it.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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