“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. And God, who searches hearts, knows what the mind of the Spirit is because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27, NRSVue)
Researchers tell us that the Christian church faces several challenges in the years ahead. On the one hand, the experts predict that decreasing worship attendance will continue, primarily due to the average age of current congregants being higher than at any time in the church’s history. Other research indicates that larger churches are getting larger and smaller churches are getting smaller, often due to the larger churches drawing younger members away from smaller churches. They also tell us that the churches that grow (regardless of size) have a clearly defined mission and vision for reaching the people in the community with God’s love and grace. These churches align their resources to that end and stay laser-focused on fulfilling God’s call to minister to the needs of their community.
The fact is that no one knows the future except God. Whatever tomorrow holds, we have nothing to fear because God is already at work, preparing us for the future and preparing the future for us. Our task between now and then is to listen to God and follow his voice as he leads us, trusting that God is working for our ultimate good. Paul spoke of God’s activity in Romans 8, acknowledging that the Holy Spirit steps in and prays on our behalf when we feel uncertain and void of the words to pray. The Holy Spirit intercedes between God and us and prays the prayer we would pray if we fully knew God’s will. This prayer is another form of God’s prevenient grace at work, bringing us into greater fellowship with him.
God has a future for the First United Methodist Church of Florence. With over 200 years behind us, we’ve weathered countless ups and downs. Churches go through cycles and seasons. Church experts continue to expound on how the Christian church has yet to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for a clear focus and unified effort to regain what the pandemic took from us. The denominational strife on the heels of the pandemic has hindered us further. Given these challenges, it’s time to unite around our shared mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It’s also time for us to live out our unique vision as we “Offer creative experiences that lead people into inspiring encounters with God, meaningful engagement with each other, and lifelong transformation.”
I’m thankful that we’re reaching new people for Jesus Christ. Each week, visitors show up to experience the inspiring worship and Christian fellowship that typifies our congregation. The fact that these visitors return in successive weeks is an optimistic forecast of future growth. We’ve received four new members this year, and several more visitors have indicated their desire to join. We had twelve new members join us last year, baptized five infants, and we expect even more this year. God isn’t finished with us yet.
No one can predict the future, but we worship the One who meets us there, and God’s presence ensures that our future is secure. I invite you to commit more fully to the journey of faith as we see God’s hand guiding us into the future he has in mind. The Holy Spirit is already praying the prayer we need to be prayed for our future. What more could we ask? — Senior Pastor Rev. Dale Cohen