Gary Holmes
The Rev. Gary Holmes

Sugar River UMC in Verona, Wisconsin, is passionate about discipleship. This passion, according to their pastor, the Rev. Gary Holmes, is what has helped the church grow and thrive.

Sugar River is organized around its purpose (and process) to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Specifically, Sugar River exists for families, friends, and neighbors to Connect, Grow, and Serve in their relationship with God and others.

They are so intent on sharing this passion that they share it on the opening page of the church website:

CONNECT is the HEART of Discipleship. Through worship and fellowship, we strive to offer authenticity, passion and meaning, with a message that challenges the intellect and warms the heart. You’ll find high-energy & inspiring music wrapped in tradition.

GROW is the HEAD of Discipleship. We grow through relationships that support and inspire our faith in Jesus Christ. At Sugar River, there are dynamic children and youth programs, and vital small group opportunities for you and your family.

SERVE is the HANDS of Discipleship. We seek to alleviate suffering and offer hope by locally supporting the needs of our community, and internationally. There are mission and service opportunities available for people all ages and abilities.

Sugar RIver UMC
Sugar River youth are discipled by adults at Sugar River.

To help the congregation members understand their place in discipleship work, Sugar River takes time each year during the Sunday morning worship time for them to take a discipleship assessment survey.

Rev. Holmes said the survey is based on information from the Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard, a well- respected ministry coach known throughout United Methodist circles.

He said, “Several of our discipleship system aspects are a result of the Wisconsin Conference training: Institute for Congregational Development (ICD). I was blessed to be a part of the leadership development team for this training. One of the leaders on Discipleship systems was Phil Maynard. He was very influential in our development.

“We did a lot of work on adapting some of the survey information from Dr. Maynard to meet the needs specific to our church,” Rev. Holmes said. “First, we made it easy to fill out. We based the questions on Connect, Grow and Serve. We have yes/no questions relating to topics on generosity, sharing one’s faith, and Christian goals.”

Using what the people shared on the survey, Rev. Holmes and church staff/leadership compile the data to get a snapshot of where the congregation is in their assessment of their own level of discipleship interest and involvement.

Sugar River UMC
Much of Sugar River’s discipleship happens as people gather together to work on a common activity.

Using what the people shared on the survey, Rev. Holmes and church staff/leadership compile the data to get a snapshot of where the congregation is in their assessment of their own level of discipleship interest and involvement.

“This helps me know how I need to guide the church,” Rev. Holmes said. “We develop some core offerings they can use to find their best places of service. The opportunities range from doing things with a low-threat/high-comfort level like writing a card to a soldier or nursing home resident all the way to going on a mission trip to Guatemala. Whatever level of service they feel comfortable doing, we give them the opportunity to engage with people right there.”

Discipleship at Sugar River is done well. The church leaders are intentional about knowing who their people are, where they are in their understanding of reaching out with the love of Christ and what it will take to involve them in the work of reaching the world. None of it is easy, but it is certainly effective.