CRCDS Alumnus Appointed Director of Vital Congregations

The Upper New York Conference is pleased to announce that the Rev. Dr. Aaron Bouwens (M.Div., '03) will begin serving full-time as the Conference Director of Vital Congregations.

Rev. Bouwens, 38, has led the Conference's church revitalization efforts since the position was created in July 2012; until now it has been a half-time appointment. Rev. Bouwens also serves as co-pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Liverpool.

“Aaron has been doing some great work in the area of congregational revitalization. Going full-time will enable him to expand what we’re able to offer local churches seeking renewal,” said Conference Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding. “It’s another step in our continuing quest to align Conference resources around the needs of our local congregations.”

Rev. Bouwens

Rev. Bouwens said he's looking forward to having the opportunity to focus exclusively on helping congregations revitalize.

"I am excited to have a primary focus; to be able to pick one piece and really look at it," Rev. Bouwens said. "This will give me more time to resource more local churches and to find greater ways to enhance Hand to Plow and the come-along-side strategies of Hand to Plow."

Bishop Mark J. Webb said making this a full-time appointment speaks to the importance of keeping congregations equipped to meet the Church's larger mission.

"Helping congregations continue to be effective and grow in their vitality is essential to living the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," said Bishop Webb. "Rev. Bouwens has provided leadership to this task, and I am grateful for his continuing call to this work. I hope you will join me in praying for Aaron and his family during this time of transition."

As Director of Vital Congregations, Rev. Bouwens has led Hand to Plow, a multi-year process aimed at assisting churches in increasing discipleship.

Hand to Plow, he said, will continue to be a strong focus, but now he will also be able to work on other projects and explore "all the possible strategies to help local churches."

"I want to emphasize that we are not going to push Hand to Plow out of the way," Rev. Bouwens said. "But Hand to Plow takes a good amount of time, and we recognize that it might not fit everyone's needs."

Rev. Bouwens will be based in the Conference office in Syracuse and, he said, "Wherever my little blue car is."

"I talked about that with my family; I'll be on the road a little more," he said, "but that just means a different rhythm."

He and his wife, Sarah, have three daughters Rachel, 10; Leah, 8, and Hannah, 6. His mother is the Rev. Beth Bouwens, pastor of the Caton UMC.

Before Liverpool UMC, Rev. Bouwens served as pastor of First UMC in Cortland and Faith UMC in Wolcott. He has a BS from Houghton College and earned his MDiv. from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He completed his Doctor of Ministry with a concentration in leadership in the 21st century in 2013 at Drew University in New Jersey.

Rev. Bouwens said the past 17 months has reinforced an important factor that should inspire and encourage Upper New York members.

We have a lot of people, laity, who are really excited and passionate about the possibility of what the Church could be," he said. "There's a lot of energy from our lay folks."

That energy will be needed, he said, because another lesson reinforced by the work he's been doing is that "changing a church requires a system change, not just a few activity changes."

Rev. Bouwens encourages church leaders and others who want to get involved or learn more about the Conference's church revitalization efforts to contact him at the Conference office at (315) 424-7878 ext. 338 or by email at