I have three questions to ask each of you who happen to be reading this article. I expect you to be completely honest in your answers to these questions, because no one will see your answers except you. And if your answer is “NO” to any question, you may stop the inquiry – no need to answer the next question. OK, here goes:
- Are you a member of your Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge in good standing?
- Does your Odd Fellows Lodge have a membership problem? (I define membership problem as declining membership, stagnant membership, aging membership, failure to recruit younger members, very small membership, etc.)
- Have you sponsored an applicant for membership to your Lodge in the past three years?
So, there you have it. The third question is, in my opinion, the single most important question facing Odd Fellowship. The landscape of North America is littered with the bones of fraternal orders that were born, flourished, and flamed out when membership decline brought an end to that particular fraternal dream.
Granted, bringing in new members does little, if anything, for the current status and functioning of your Lodge. However, it is absolutely critical to the continued viability of your Lodge. If you only care about your own present personal enjoyment and happiness in the Lodge, then you can stop reading now. On the other hand, if you also care about the potential future and well-being of your Lodge and your fraternity, then read on! Because bringing in new members is the sine qua non of our continued viability. A lot of things are appropriate, important, even necessary to Odd Fellowship – such as strong leadership, well-maintained Lodge Halls, strong financial health and good record-keeping, among other matters. But all pale in significance when the Lodge starts declining in members, and slowly shrinks. One side detriment in the loss of membership quantity, of course, is the loss of membership quality. Lodges need members who have leadership skills, business skills, record-keeping skills, financial skills, and the like to make sure that the natural checks-and-balances remain in place. Often, a declining Lodge is propped up with associate members from nearby Lodges. That, however, is not a solution to the decline – it is only a postponement. And the ultimate result of a shrinking membership is the final coup de grace when the Lodge can’t even muster a quorum to conduct business and is compelled to consolidate with another Lodge or simply give up its charter. If you think this can’t happen to your Lodge, think again. Odd Fellowship in North America has seen hundreds of Lodges disappear in this fashion over the last Century.
So, what can you do about it?
It’s pretty simple, really. Just sponsor a new member. If every member of the Odd Fellows would bring in just one new member every two years, we would not be concerned about membership declines. But in reality, the vast majority of our members don’t bring in new members – not yesterday, not now, not ever. They ignore this responsibility or just figure someone else will do it. This complacent attitude, Brothers and Sisters, is the real “membership problem”, and is most dangerous to the future of our Order.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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