The Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ primary words are Friendship, Love, and Truth. Add to those the goal of ‘Elevating Human Character,’ and you’ve got a recipe that no one will argue with. But how do we engage more people in our Order? I think three more words are vitally important: ‘fun,’ ‘relevance’, and ‘yes.’
If people don’t have fun, they don’t show up. If there is something people would rather be doing, they’ll do it. There is certainly more to life than fun (see below), but making everything arduous is a sure way to turn people away. We all hear about the “Golden Age” of Fraternal Organizations. In 1905, the total population of Woodland California was around 3,000 people, but the Woodland Odd Fellows Lodge had over 200 members! We can attract people back to Odd Fellowship, but if it’s not fun, they’ll stop coming. Meetings are not fun. And meetings, by themselves, do not give relevance. They are a necessary function of the Lodge, but they are not why people return. Said another way, most people will stay in a Lodge in spite of the meetings, not because of them. So, make the meetings as fun as you can, but we can’t stop there.
Relevance is a word I don’t often hear when people talk about Odd Fellows or growing the Order, but I believe it is vitally important. In addition to being fun, the Lodge needs to be relevant to people. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves or their family. They want to feel that they are part of a community, that they are helping, that there is purpose to their lives. And they want to feel that what they’re doing matters and will outlive them.
When the Odd Fellows began, there were no social safety nets. People banded together and organized to create those safety nets for their fellow community members. The Order was very relevant to its members. Today we have more safety nets and so our Lodges have turned their efforts more toward helping their communities. Don’t know what is relevant? Look to your community and find a need that needs filling. When people have a feeling that what they are doing is relevant and important, they will dive in with their heart and soul. They will automatically bring the values of Friendship, Love, and Truth. In our Order, we ask people to contemplate mortality. Much of our imagery is about working together for something that lasts: the bundle of sticks, the heart in hand, images of bones. They are powerful images because they convey a sense of community and of something bigger – and longer lasting – than one’s self. But if they’re just images, they’re merely curios from a bygone era. Bringing relevance to those images – and to our Lodges – will be what determines whether our Order survives, or is relegated to history books.
The surest way to get relevance is to say “yes.” If someone asks to do something, it means that it is near and dear to their heart and the quickest way to squash their enthusiasm is to say ‘no.’ What your Lodge is doing may satisfy you and the current members, but if you want new members, the Lodge needs to be relevant to them. (Important note: you don’t need to give up what you enjoy when saying ‘yes’ to someone else’s idea!)
New members need to have a purpose. And the best way to find out what is important to others is to simply ask! Most Lodges own their own building. The value of this resource can simply not be overstated. Do you have someone in your Lodge that wants to create an event? Perhaps a community open mic night, or a fundraiser for a good cause? If something is not against the rules of the order, the answer should be, “yes.” Making an annual event to help a local cause will do more to advertise that your Lodge is relevant to the community than any amount of marketing. Will there be issues? Of course! Will there be roadblocks? Certainly. But we mustn’t let negative possibilities get in the way of our positive possibilities. Just say ‘yes.’ You will be surprised how many people will pitch in to make your Lodge positive, relevant, and fun. And when others see you doing good and having fun doing it, they’ll want to join too.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth
Larry D. Guenther
Noble Grand, Davis Lodge #169
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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