Faced with declining church attendance and dwindling income, the Diocese of Michigan is set to launch a plan aimed at revitalizing the “diocesan household.” At the core of the plan is an effort to determine the best way to invest a remarkable resource to bring about growth and vitality: the Extended Ministries Fund (EMF), which includes a bequest to the diocese given 15 years ago and worth more than $9 million today.
Delegates to Michigan’s 174th annual convention, meeting October 24-25 in Dearborn, will entertain a proposal from the Diocesan Council and the Extended Ministries Fund Task Force II that calls for spending up to $325,000 from the principal of the EMF to fund the first phase of planning for a project designed to promote ministry and growth. A series of open forums leading up to convention got underway on October 8.
The task force has been at work since November 2007 soliciting input from people throughout the diocese “regarding the development of a plan for the best use of the EMF” and has completed statistical research on church attendance and giving trends.
Facing stark realities
In its proposal, the task force notes that “the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan is in steep decline.” Charts included in the document reveal that average Sunday attendance has declined by 22% since 2000. During the same time period “pledge and plate revenues” for all congregations combined has decreased by approximately $2 million, when adjusted for inflation.
The proposal also notes that since 1995, the annual diocesan budget has been dependent on a draw from the “appreciated value and investment income” of the EMF. In 2007 that draw amounted to 36% of the revenue in the budget. Tithes and offerings from congregations amounted to only 57% of the budget that same year.
The task force reported that the diocesan budget has been “cut substantially” over the past several years, including a reduction in staff. It said it concurs with its predecessor body (the EMF Task Force I) that “further budget cuts would cripple diocesan operations irrevocably.”
“If we choose to take a hatchet to program, I believe we are admitting defeat, and we need to be honest and say so,” Bishop Wendell Gibbs told the diocesan council in September.