Every member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is familiar with the term “the unwritten work.” So let me coin a new term: “the unspoken work.” I use this term to reflect the fact that Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL), for the most part, does not wish to speak about the elephant in our Lodge rooms. That elephant is the steady decline in our membership year after year after year. Many of our Lodges are tottering and some of our jurisdictions are decimated by the decrease in members. It’s not easy to obtain statistics. And the statistics that are made available by SGL are typically three years old when they are revealed.
Our Order has a big problem. It is called declining membership. And the problem does not go away by ignoring it, or choosing not to speak about it. Every year the median age of our members ekes upward. And every year our collective Lodge membership shrinks lower. It’s not rocket science. You can see where this is going.
Brother Rick Boyles (Odd Fellows California Jurisdiction) has accumulated the latest membership statistics that he could find, and spent many hours sorting through the numbers. His findings are sobering. The newsletter article below is a sequel to an article published by Rick on July 10, 2020.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Reality by the Numbers
The statistics below are listed in the 2018 IOOF SGL Advance Reports. The figures from 2018 are derived from all state jurisdictions for the year ending 2017.
I asked one of my fellow members a few years ago what he thinks the order will look like in ten years? He replied “Who Cares? I will be gone.” He was clearly right on the money in one aspect. He has already died. But I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide if the situation is dire enough to garner any attention:
- American Life Expectancy is 76 years for Men and 81 years for Women with an average life expectancy of 78. The average age of Odd Fellows in the U.S. is 72.
- Odd Fellows nationwide including all aggregate groups total 35,000 members. The Freemasons nationwide including all aggregate groups total 2,000,000 members. The Freemasons are 57 times larger than the Odd Fellows.
- There are 5 states listed in the 2018 IOOF SGL Advance Reports with less than 100 members. These are membership totals as reported by state jurisdictions as of the year ending 2017.
- There are also 3 states no longer listed in the SGL membership lists. So, as of 3 years ago, there are 5 states with less than 100 total members, along with 3 states no longer listed whatsoever.
- All 8 of these states at one time, not so long ago, had thousands of members in each jurisdiction.
- The Freemasons have at least 35% members from minority groups. Just one of their branches, as defined by Wikipedia, has almost 300,000 African American members. The Odd Fellows number of minority members is almost non-existent.
- Subtracting Canada from the Odd Fellow membership lists the U.S. total for Odd Fellow membership as of year ending 2017 was 28,595.
- The top five states; California (4,557), Pennsylvania (2,018), Illinois (1,609), Oregon (1,527), and West Virginia (1,199) totaled 10,910 members, year ending 2017.
- The other 45 states totaled 17,685 members for an average membership count of 393 members per state, also year ending 2017.
- Figuring Average American Life Expectancy, within 9 years (already 3 years in arrears), each state will have less than half of their members.
- 19 states, not including 3 states already dropped off the list, have less than 200 members on their books. Since members generally stop attending prior to their passing, 22 states will have 70 or less members within 9 years, 3 years already having passed due to the 3-year lag in reporting.
- Assuming the counts of 70 members per state and realizing that a state must have 5 operative lodges, with a quorum of 5 members in attendance (preferably 10 on the books) per lodge, it will be inconceivable for many states to continue to operate.
- Each year, nationwide the Odd Fellows membership count decreases by an average of 1,000 members. The percentage membership loss is increasing yearly.
- The Odd Fellows, at the beginning of the 20th Century, were the largest fraternity in the United States. Since that time, they have lost 97% of their members.
- In the year 2016, only one state in the United States showed a net increase. Yes, it was that dreaded state of California. This may be due to many factors, including the DMC, but also the fact that we have many things to offer our members. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, the Odd Fellows must make sure that there is “a there there”. Members must see the rationale for joining.
In summation, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows must make fundamental changes if we are to survive. Statistically, if we stay on the same track, we are doomed. But statistics may also save us if we learn the following lessons – we must recruit younger and more diverse members. We must become a welcoming center for people of all walks of life, all political persuasions, and we must clearly define our Friendship, Love and Truth to the outside world.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles