Obviously, we are all aware of our membership issues, but there is something else that is apparent in almost every Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge. Many members may still be on our lists but no longer attend. Why is that? A myriad of reasons, clearly, but one basic reason predominates. Boredom.
Actually, that is the underlying reason for the lack of attendance of most members. We need to make sure we motivate members to attend our lodges.
In my Odd Fellows lodge, not a big lodge, granted, but we are normally able to get at least 50% of our members to attend, for one simple reason. We try to make each lodge meeting a dinner occasion, as well. We no longer cook in the lodge, rather, we eat at our local eateries and make decisions prior to meeting night as to where we should go. The monetary difference between having a meal in the lodge and eating out is fairly insignificant. A while back, we prepared a meal in our lodge for fifteen members, and it cost $150 in groceries. The next month we went to a local reasonably priced restaurant, and it cost less than twice that. Clearly, lodges can’t always afford to go to the high-priced eateries for every dinner, but there is no real rationality to cook in the lodge, particularly if your members in attendance are dwindling. Frankly, it is one of the few benefits still prevalent throughout the order.
We lose members for simple reasons, boredom being the dominant characteristic, stemming from the sameness of every meeting, the drabness of some of our old buildings, and of course, the pandemic hasn’t helped to lighten the mood. Some members joke that we don’t want freeloaders of the type that desires free dinner, but frankly, there’s a bit of that in all of us, and it comes from a historical fact of life in our order. Our order was originally a place where tired and hungry people were wined and dined, often more than anything else. There is no shame in making each lodge night a bit of an event. Generally, when we get a new member, it is due to a dinner out we had planned or were planning. Then, if we fall back and just eat within our tiresome lodge walls, attendance slowly drops. Of course, many lodges are more active and that adds to the enthusiasm to a lodge, but just the act of eating out presents the image of an active lodge. It’s a simple way to liven things up.
The other argument in favor of eating out is just the basic physical makeup of an ordinary lodge setting. Most of us are elderly. Of course, we should be out jogging or power lifting or any of the other strenuous activities to keep us healthy but let’s be serious. Most of us are more suited to a nice meal out than working out at our local gym. I submit that if we announce our meals out to our friends and fellow members, we will see a steady increase of members who find it a bit more exciting than reciting the ritual after eating a cold bologna sandwich. Sometimes I think we have lost a lot of members due to the fact that we no longer look at them as fellow human beings. Human beings that just want to be noticed, heard, and enjoyed as unique. We have this bad habit of looking at our members as numbers not individual human beings. Few people really want to join a lodge where all they do is wash dishes, eat cold casseroles, and listen to the constant dirge of sick and distressed.
One final example from my own lodge, recently, we planned a big Christmas dinner, announced a well-liked local restaurant as the destination and got more members in attendance than we had seen in years, along with friends and family. We also saw a couple of members return to active status who had been AWOL for years. Of course, this is not even news to most members. When I mention it in my own lodge, it’s almost too obvious. If we are not attending our lodge for our own enjoyment, why are we attending it? If our intention is to squeeze every breath out of our order by brandishing the code book, demanding quiet obedience, and offering nothing in return we will get nothing in return beyond diminishing numbers and the inevitable closure of lodges. Happiness is much more powerful an attractant than this sad reduction of our members to digits on a chart. Charting our failure as an order is easy. Treating each member as a valuable part of our order is a bit more involved but leads the way to a brighter future.
This is certainly not meant to take away from the active lodges who have many committees and special events, but it is a simple way to at least keep the smaller lodges happy. Every little bit helps. It’s difficult to have a lot of committees with only a handful of members in attendance. Let’s start first by making those few remaining smile at each other.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
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