Dropping memberships in service clubs — primarily Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis Clubs — is not necessarily a new trend. Some trace the shrinking clubs numbers back to 1940.

Lions International claims enrollment in U.S. Lions clubs peaked in the 1980s, and has been on the decline nearly every year since.

"The last two to three years the decline is slowing," said Dane LaJoyce, spokesman for Lions International. "That tells us we are doing better."

Nationally the peak was 585,000 members. Today the Lions reports about 300,000 members in the U.S. Locally, the club has lost 20 percent of its membership in the past three years.

"Looking at the future, we need more hands on deck," said Matt Seger, current president of the Newton Lions.

The Lions are far from alone.

Kiwanis International reports a drop in national membership since the year 2000 — from 227,863 to 162,782 last year. U.S. membership dropped by nearly 30,000 in the last five years of data. Rotary is telling a similar story. There were 368,145 Rotarians in the United States in 2009, that number has dropped to 337,133 in 2013.

Rotary attendance in the state of Kansas has dropped as well, from 5,831 members in 2012 to 5,671 in 2013.

In Newton the Rotary has held steady — losing about six members, or 10 percent, in five years time. Kiwanis is much the same — current rolls are at 41 members, which is a steady number over the past five years.

"There's not been a significant defection of members in Newton," said Barrick Wilson, spokesman for the Newton Kiwanis.

But there is another issue for those clubs — an aging membership. Rotary reports more than 60 percent of Newton members are age 60 or older. Kiwanis has two "millennial" members. For Newton Lions, 75 percent of the membership is 50 or older.

"We are all getting older, every year," said Rod Kreie, a member of the Newton Rotary.

What the clubs offer

Leaders of the Newton service clubs can speak openly about why the clubs exist, and why someone should become a member. Some of those leaders also can talk openly about the mistakes they made when they chose to become a member.

Now retired, Wilson joined Kiwanis in 1973 while working in marketing.

"I joined the Kiwanis for all the wrong reasons," Wilson said. " … I was a sales rep fro a radio station. It was impressed on me that my success would improve with a membership."

And to some extent, that idea still exists today.

"Some people just don't get the concept of a service club," said current Kiwanis president Dennis Quiring.

The service clubs are a bit unique — unlike fraternal orders they don't have their own building. Some only meet once or twice a month. In Newton, two of the three clubs share a meeting space — Rotary and Kiwanis both meet at Charlie's, 200 Manchester. Lions meets at the Breadbasket downtown — a restaurant owned by a Kiwanis member.

Each club raises funds for local, national and international projects. The list of projects is too long to list — but there are highlights.  Rotary has spent decades and millions to eradicate polio worldwide — and by  2012 had rid all but Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan of the disease. Rotary also operates "Centers for International Studies," "Peace Colleges," and international exchanges.

Kiwanis is dedicated to the support of children. As a global project in coordination with UNICEF, members and clubs contributed more than $80 million toward the global elimination of iodine deficiency disorders, the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. In 2010 Kiwanis International once again joined with UNICEF to launch a new worldwide health initiative, dedicated to wiping out maternal and neonatal tetanus, which kills more than 60,000 babies and a significant number of women each year.

Lions is known for eyesight projects. Lions' focus on work for the blind and visually impaired began when Helen Keller addressed the International Convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1925 and charged Lions to be "Knights of the Blind." Lions also have a strong commitment to community hearing and cancer-screening projects.

All have local projects as well — projects through the schools, fireworks for July 4, a parade downtown for Christmas, vision screenings — and an upcoming fund-raising bike-a-thon with all three clubs working together are examples.

"We all have our different identities, goals and projects," said Rotarian David Nygaard. "But we don't conflict with each other, and the town benefits from that."

Attracting millenials

All three Newton clubs are looking at the future, and all three are concerned about that future.

They also agree that attracting new members will be the only way to keep the clubs moving forward.

"These are great organizations," said Jeanette Friesen. "We are all looking for more members because with more member we can do more in the community."

The key as the clubs move forward are to attract "The Millenials."

The Pew Research Center, an American think tank organization, lists the Millennial birth range as those born "after 1980." In other words, young professionals.

"We need to find events that are geared to them," Seger said. "If we can get them to learn the message. … The millenials are in tune, and willing to help. We just need to help them learn the needs."

The need to attract younger members has leadership looking at club traditions, membership fees and meeting times. The Lions saw growth after moving their meeting time from the evening to noon.

Some wonder about the singing of songs to open meetings — and others look at the calendar for the year and believe there needs to be strategy involved in the timing of asking a prospect to a meeting or joining.

"A big problem is getting young people passionate before they get bored," Kreie said. "And the future is to get young people involved."

He said there is a "down time" of the year for clubs — service projects are completed and a the club is just in the planning stages for the next year. It's that time of year where the impression could be the club is about getting together a couple times  month, eating a meal and hearing a speaker.

"The reality of it is the young adults feel like they need real value from this, not only with their money, but their time," Kreie said.