Bringing Ministry to Life in Guatemala City

“Tell us about your idea for a ministry. Most important, tell us why you want to lead this ministry, especially why you sense the Lord has called you to do it.”

Questions like this have led to 60-plus ministries at Vida Real (Real Life), a thriving church based in Guatemala City. Some of the ministries are small or specialized. They include men who like to ride motorcycles, people who have an adult child struggling with an addiction, and widows whose husbands have been killed through violent crime. Other groups are broader, such as a fellowship and training ministry for business entrepreneurs.

Starting a ministry at Vida Real is a simple process with little paperwork involved. Yet if someone receives the go-ahead and proves to be effective in gathering people, the church’s leaders roll out the support. “Do you need a room at the church? Would you like us to supply refreshments? Create a web page?”

If the ministry takes off to the point that administrative challenges are blocking its ongoing growth, the church might hire an assistant for the volunteer leader. 

“We even have a service pastor, someone specifically to provide a bridge between the volunteer leaders and the church’s leadership structure,” says Jorge Dieguez, executive pastor at the church. “Usually, people minister better when they stay in their current employment and maintain their current social connections, so we try to support anything we can to help their ministry succeed.”

This permission-giving attitude is part of the DNA of Vida Real. Founded in 2001, the church today draws 8,000 people across 17 campuses in Guatemala. Most campuses are in Guatemala City itself, the largest city in Central America.

Embracing Innovation

The church’s senior pastor, Rony Madrid, who leads along with his wife, Nino, grew up as a pastor’s son. Madrid had a front-row seat as his father experienced the Holy Spirit in fresh ways, shifted from Presbyterian to Pentecostal, founded a church that grew explosively, and maintained a laser-like focus on the urgency of fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission.

Building on those foundations, Madrid tirelessly preached the gospel as he founded Vida Real. A strong visionary, he’s modeled church in many ways that are different from his peers.

“We started using screens and video way before other churches in our area, which made us different and unique,” Dieguez explains. “From the start, we involved creativity in our worship, which became a driver for growth, as people invited their friends. The word-of-mouth buzz was that we were doing church in new ways that people needed to experience.”

Madrid hosted a radio broadcast that became a TV show. His format included reading books and commending them to his listeners. “That has certainly attracted people to church,” Dieguez says. Today the church hosts broadcasts on both radio and TV.

By empowering people to start a ministry in areas of personal experience—from motorcycling to grieving the loss of a spouse by murder—the church connects the gospel to many people’s pain. 

“Often, only someone in the exact context can speak with credibility to others like them, enabling them to provide both advice and hope,” Dieguez says.

Financial Integrity and Accountability

The motive behind all these initiatives is to try to reach people who haven’t been part of a church. Another large group of people Vida Real reaches are people hurt by painful church experiences, including disillusionment through financial scandals. 

In response, part of Vida Real’s DNA from the beginning has been to have a healthy board to manage church funds and establish the senior pastor’s salary. 

“This gives people confidence that the resources they donate are being invested in kingdom projects,” Dieguez says.

From its earliest days, the church followed the seven integrity standards of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (, which accredits U.S. churches and nonprofits in areas of appropriate financial transparency, leadership integrity and good governance.* In more recent years, Vida Real helped champion the launch of a Guatemalan counterpart to ECFA called CONFIABLE, which means “trustworthy.” It’s also an acronym for Council of Organizations, Nonprofit, Financially Integrated, Auditable, Biblically and Legally Established.

Gary Hoag, president and CEO of Global Trust Partners, worked with Madrid and others in Guatemala to establish CONFIABLE. 

“Vida Real’s commitment to modeling transparency has inspired others to follow integrity standards,” he says. “The standards are strengthening churches and ministries for sustainability in Guatemala and across Latin America.”

Experiencing God

While the gospel itself and the healthy financial environment form important foundations, the realities of experiencing God’s hand at work also validate the ministry and help draw the crowds. 

“When the congregation hears, for example, about a landowner who didn’t want to rent to us, but after prayer dramatically reversed and said yes, we’re inspired by things that only God could have done,” says Dieguez. “When things happen that no human can take credit for, that attracts people the most. In fact, events like this remind us that we should prefer to be ignorant and instead to depend on God.”

* Editor’s Note: Warren Bird is vice president of research and equipping at ECFA.

Guatemala City, Guatemala
Founding: Rony Madrid
Founded: 2001
Locations: 17
Attendance: 8,000

Warren Bird
Warren Bird

Warren Bird, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is the vice president of research at ECFA, former research director for Leadership Network and author of more than 30 books for church leaders.