Like many of you, I have read various articles of declining membership. I have seen the numbers shared by other writers. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which thrived just 100 years ago before its steady decline. There are reasons for this steep decline which began in the mid-1920’s. I have written about the causation of this decline in the past.
Just because our numbers are diminishing does not mean we are less of a force as an organization. It does not even mean that all lodges are weak in numbers. Some lodges are thriving today. Some lodges steadily bring in new members. I am fortunate to belong to a lodge that limits its membership to 275 members. In European countries, Odd Fellowship is expanding. In the Philippines, lodges are being instituted often. But in America and Canada, Odd Fellowship is struggling and may never return to those great numbers of lodges and members the Order once maintained.
In California, our decline has been steady. One of the problems limiting us on expanding growth is that we sold our properties every time a charter was surrendered. Combine that with the escalating prices in buildings, it is no wonder why we cannot expand in many areas throughout the state.
Our Deputy Grand Master, brother Redgie Fleeman recently worked on a project to identify how many lodge halls we actually own in California. We once owned hundreds, close to 300 lodge halls. Today, we own 84 lodge halls. The Deputy Grand Master also writes we have 109 lodges remaining. In 1990, just three decades ago, we had 227 lodges and 7,819 members. Today, we have approximately 4,200 members.
The numbers for the Rebekahs are more dismal. In 1990, they showed a number of 257 lodges. Today, that count is at 41 lodges! The number of Rebekahs in 1990, was 17,268. Today, in just 30 years, that number is a dreary 1,047. The Rebekahs are barely holding on to dear life. They no longer appear sustainable. The Grand Lodge has been assisting over the past few years to keep them going, but as their numbers continue to collapse, it will become more difficult.
Using those numbers along with some simple math, a projection could be forecast. By no means is this shared to alarm anyone, as “that alarm” was sounded years ago. This is to simply state the plain truth – fact we must all face as members.
Basing the following numbers on the past 30-year decline, here is an interesting projection: If we keep on the pace we have been on, the Odd Fellows in California would end by 2048. However, because the rate of losing members is slower than the rate of losing lodges, that projected end would arrive in 2056. Perhaps there will be a few super lodges existing between 2048 and 2056. Somewhere during that time frame if we remain on the current pace, Odd Fellowship will end like so many other organizations have done over the centuries.
For the Rebekahs, it is more devastating. Using the same rate of decline, the Rebekahs would lose all of their lodges by 2027. The rate of losing members would indicate that the end would come in 2023 or soon after. Sovereign Grand Lodge figured this out several years ago, most likely looking at similar numbers for the entire North America. But, the Rebekahs have been resilient in the last few years by fighting off the inevitable. They may just keep hanging on for years.
The math is not always the sole factor. As we have seen over the years, lodges rebound. Some emerge in a sudden growth spurt. Some lodges are not near their conclusion. Nobody knows when or if the Order will come to an end. One thing is for sure, the past 30 years give us a reality none of us have been able to change. Keep working hard and enjoy yourself while you are doing it.
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I admit it. When I first started out as Noble Grand of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) in Davis, California (Davis Lodge #169), I viewed it as a laboratory. Soon after I joined Odd Fellowship in 2004, I found a Lodge (and, frankly, an entire fraternal...
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