I AM convinced of one thing: it is the Word that does the
If we are to ensure that, in 20 years' time, the Church of
England has a strong and credible witness in every community in our
nation, we need to stop believing that growth depends on particular
programmes or traditions, on brilliant leadership, or community
projects, and instead depend on the Word made flesh, and the Word
written to do the work.
More than 20 years ago, many of those who founded Reform were
challenged to look again at the way they taught God's Word. They
learned to preach in a way that laid bare the meaning of the text
rather than impose meaning on it. They learned to preach the
meta-narrative of the Bible, and not just individual verses or
Perhaps they learned something of what Luke describes Jesus as
doing on the Emmaus road: "And beginning with Moses and all the
prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures
The results are interesting. Our analysis shows that the 350 or
so churches represented by Reform have bucked many of the trends of
the past 20 years. One third of their average congregation is under
the age of 30. One third of churches have experienced sufficient
growth to require them to start a new congregation in the past ten
Their average weekly attendance is three times that of the
average C of E church. They produce three times the average number
I WAS surprised to find that the location of churches represented
by Reform reflects, almost exactly, the socio-economic profile of
the nation. It is not resources or youth that has grown these
churches: on the contrary, they have resources and young people
because that is what they have grown to be.
The job is not complete. Our churches are gatherings of sinful
human beings. We get things wrong. But - dependent on the
forgiveness offered by Jesus's death and resurrection - we seek to
live lives transformed and shaped by his Word.
Teaching and preaching is not the "end game", but it is the
means by which we are pointed back to the Word that equips us for
every good work. Consequently, we pray for bishops who uphold sound
and wholesome doctrine, and we con-tinue to train all those who
teach - male or female, lay or ordained - to "properly handle the
word of truth".
The Church Times has laid out a bleak picture of the
future of the Church of England. It is true that we face many
challenges. But, surely, Reform's experience is great news.
Any church or diocese that wishes to see growth could make
systematic, relevant, expository preaching its priority. Why don't
we just let the Word do the work?
Susie Leafe is the director of Reform.