The first meeting of Iglesia Bautista Vida Nueva (New Life Baptist Church) was held January 20, 1991 in Julio Contreras’ home, the senior pastor. To accommodate the growing congregation, 5 months later, a house was rented with a meeting capacity of about 60 people. The church was officially organized June 9, 1991 with a pastoral team of 3: Julio Contreras, Steven Kern (a missionary evangelist with Good News In Action and current director of GNIA), and Enrique Martinez (currently pastoring a church in Apopa), and 33 founding members. The first deacons were Nelson Rivas, who later became one of the pastors of Vida Nueva and is currently pastoring Vida Nueva in Guatemala City, and Mauricio Lagos, the current President of the Deacons and director of the Seminary.
From the beginning, the desire of the church was to maintain a balance between winning people to Christ and growing them in the Lord. The pastors noted the fact that almost all churches were either very strong in evangelism, at the expense of discipleship, or very strong in discipleship, at the expense of evangelism. Their dream was to have a church body as committed to winning people to Christ as they were to discipling and seeing those new believers grow in the Lord. They noted that the Bible did not emphasize one over the other but emphasized both. From the beginning, the church was very aggressive in evangelism (mass and personal) and one-on-one discipleship.
New Life Baptist Church has also always placed a strong emphasis on Bible teaching. From the moment the church began, the Bible was taught expositorily from the pulpit. In addition to emphasizing Bible teaching in the services, a Bible Institute was started from the church’s inception. The belief of the leadership was that every member should know the Bible. After each member finished Discipleship I, they were encouraged to receive Discipleship II (How to disciple another person), and then move on to the Bible Institute where they would take basic courses in the Bible such as How to Study the Bible, Leadership Principles, Basic Biblical Doctrine, and different books of the Bible. In 2008, a formal seminary was started with the help of Dr. Gerald Cowen, the current President, to offer Associate, Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Theology and Divinity with the backing of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. In 2012, the seminary was incorporated into the Discipleship process that had always been a dream of Julio and Steve. Currently, it consists of three levels. The first level is called Seguidor (Follower) and uses the 12 discipleship lessons previously used in Discipleship 1 with some small changes. The four goals are to establish the believer in the Word of God, the Local Church, a small group in the church and a ministry. The second level is called Siervo (Servant) and uses the material previously used in the Bible Institute along with new classes focused on preparing servant-leaders. It lasts 3 years and each class has between 12-15 students with the same teacher. This allows the teacher to also be a discipler or mentor for the students. The goals of the second level are to lead the students to a commitment to the Word of God, the Local Church, ministry and the character of a servant. The third level is called Sacrificio (Sacrifice) and uses the material given in the seminary. Those who want to achieve a degree pay for the classes and take the exams. Those that want to grow in their walk with God without a degree pay a nominal fee. It is Vida Nueva’s desire that God would produce living sacrifices to change the world.
Another characteristic of the church has been teamwork. Although the pastors believed that Acts 15 taught that there should be a senior pastor with the ultimate authority (James was the final authority in the church in Jerusalem), the church has also been led by a pastoral team since its inception. The pastoral team not only believed in governing the church together but also sharing the pulpit. From the beginning, Julio preached on Sunday mornings while the other pastors were responsible for Sunday nights or mid week services. The pastors wanted to have a church that modeled the teamwork seen in the book of Acts and in the early church. Julio continually points out that God Himself works as a team of three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The philosophy of teamwork starts at the top and permeates the whole church. Vida Nueva also has a teamwork attitude helping other churches throughout Latin America and El Salvador and partnering with churches in the United States.
Good News In Action has always played a big role in Vida Nueva’s growth but played an especially large role during its first years. From the beginning, Leo Humphrey brought groups down from the states to help with the evangelistic outreaches in the Greater San Salvador area and Manolo Camino, an evangelist with Good News, worked side by side with Steve and the pastoral team to help evangelize. In the first years of Vida Nueva, most of the growth came from proclamation evangelism activities such as showing Christian movies, preaching outdoors and evangelizing door-to-door. Every evangelistic activity took place outside the church building as the members used birthday parties, baby showers, women’s banquets, and social gatherings as other opportunities to present the Gospel.
By 1994, the church had grown to over 80 people and had outgrown the house it was renting. The church began to look for property and in November of 1994 bought a restaurant and tavern that sat on a 1/3 acre piece of land. In 1996, Vida Nueva moved from the house with 110 members to the new piece of land. During the first year, the church met in the dilapidated structure that the tavern had used and the children met in the restaurant structure. Although the conditions were rustic, the church continued to grow. In 1998, the church began to meet in an auditorium with a capacity of 400 people and continued to hold Sunday School classes in the restaurant. In 1999, the Sunday School and administration building was completed and Vida Nueva has met in both buildings to the present date. God used Eddie Martin, a well-known Southern Baptist Evangelist, to raise half of the money for the land and most of the money for the two buildings.
During the first 15 years (1991-2006), Vida Nueva averaged 20 percent growth each year. Because of the lack of space to grow, the church stagnated in growth between 2006 and 2009. It was the church’s hope that it would be able to move to facilities on a 6.5 acre piece of land purchased in 2006 but, due to changes in the laws concerning bridges, the church has still not been able to get the necessary permit to build the bridge necessary to access the property. To alleviate the space problem, the church went to a multisite model beginning in 2009 and added a service at the Hotel Crown Plaza in San Salvador. Since that time, the church has added campuses in Lourdes and Apopa and now has 10 weekly services. In 2014, the church plans to add 2 more Sunday services to accommodate the continued growth. Currently (January 2014), 1,200 adults and 400 children attend the Sunday services. In 2007, Vida Nueva started a bilingual Christian school with classes for children between the ages of 3 and 5. The school now has over 150 students and the classes go up to sixth grade, each year they will add an additional grade until the school reaches 12th grade.
Due to a lack of space to accommodate our growing congregation, the church is currently looking into selling its existing property and buying a 1.5 acre piece of land to build a 2,000 seat auditorium and buildings for the school and seminary. Please join us in praying that the Lord will provide for us to be able to accomplish this.