World’s Biggest Congregation

 

LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: There are big churches, and then there’s the Yoido Full Gospel Church here in Seoul, South Korea. It’s the mother of megachurches, with the largest congregation in the world. On a typical day 200,000 will attend one of seven services along with another two or three hundred thousand watching them on TV in adjoining buildings or satellite branches. While some other churches may be losing members, this one just keeps growing. The main sanctuary here holds 21,000 worshipers packed to the rafters seven times every Sunday. Each service has its own orchestra, its own choir, its own pastor. There are hundreds of assistants. There need to be. Each service is translated into 16 different languages for visitors. Karen Kim is a pastor with the church’s international  division. She says she was shocked when she first moved here from Australia.

KAREN KIM: I think when you’ve got people this size, like you have to have structure, and you have to have organization, because otherwise people would be getting killed. Like you can’t just let it all just take care of itself. Like there has to be like organized rosters of volunteers and things like that to get people in and out of the service, or these people will literally die and get crushed.

Reverend Young Hoon LeeSEVERSON: The level of organization here is striking. Senior pastor Reverend Young Hoon Lee explains it this way.

REVEREND YOUNG HOON LEE: Our church operates like orchestra. Every day we make perfect harmony and fantastic symphony.

SEVERSON: Even though the first Christian missionaries arrived in Korea in 1784, the so-called Hermit Kingdom continued to be Buddhist until about 60 years ago. That was about the time Pastor David Cho founded what became the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which now has missionaries of its own in 67 countries.

REVEREND DAVID YONGGI CHO: People don’t come to our church because I’m holy person, I’m spectacular Christian. No. They come because I supply their need. I meet their need through the word of God.

SEVERSON: Actually, Pastor Cho is one of the most revered evangelists in Korea. He was a Buddhist until he rejected his religion when he was near death from tuberculosis. He says that’s when Jesus Christ appeared to him in the middle of the night and told him to preach the gospel. So he did. When the country was suffering in poverty and desperation after the Korean War, he preached the gospel of hope through prayer.

People come to Prayer Mountain to pray, sometime for hoursREVEREND CHO: Every morning at 4:30 people come to church, and they pray for one or two hours, and all-night prayer meeting on Friday evening.

SEVERSON: Prayer seems especially important to this congregation. Each day buses leave the big church for the ride up to Prayer Mountain, which includes a sacred cemetery on a hillside. It overlooks a complex of buildings with a church, a hotel, and tiny, individual prayer rooms barely big enough to kneel and pray, which some do for hours. From a distance you can hear the sound of wailing coming from  the top of the cemetery and people speaking in tongues.

KAREN KIM: It’s very important to their faith, and speaking in tongues is a way that they communicate with God and that they allow God to communicate through them, and it’s evidence of the Spirit working in them and then being filled with the Spirit.

SEVERSON: From only five members in 1958, Yoido Full Gospel, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal movement, grew to be the largest congregation in the world with over 800,000 members. Some satellite congregations have been released to become independent branches, although they’re still connected to the big church. There is more than one reason Yoido grew so big and so fast, but Pastor Cho believes women have a lot to do with it.

Pastor David Cho of Yoido Full Gospel ChurchPASTOR DAVID CHO: God gave me the idea because until that time women were despised, actually, in society. They were not given any important position, and the Spirit of the Lord said why don’t you use women? So I announced that I would start cell ministry and use women as the leader, and many men protested. They felt very bad about that, but I forced my idea. The women were so very happy,  and they dedicated—they were excellent workers.

KAREN KIM: They make up the majority of the membership in the church, and they really like to do a lot of volunteering. Historically, in church history Pentecostalism has been one of those areas and those branches of Christianity that has been more open to women pastors.

SEVERSON: One reason Yoido has grown so big is because of its fundamental message, that if members give to God, he’ll give them prosperity, the same message found in numerous megachurches in the U.S.

REVEREND CHO: Many people are accusing me that I’m preaching the gospel of prosperity, but I’m not afraid of being accused, because if gospel could not bring prosperity to other people, suffering people, what can you do for them? Because gospel must bring prosperity in our spirit, soul and body and lives. If gospel bring destruction to us, why should we believe in prosperity?

Tithing is a fundamental part of church doctrine.SEVERSON: But Pastor Cho says personal prosperity is good only if people become rich as well in their spirit and soul.

REVEREND CHO: People try to bring happiness from their circumstances by being rich, by arriving their position in society. But those things soon pass away. They need eternal hope that is coming from inside out, not from outside in.

SEVERSON: Tithing is a fundamental part of church doctrine.

REVEREND LEE: Most members give tithes to the church—10 percent. With that money we help all the poor people in our society.

SEVERSON: With so many members and so much in tithes, the church could be a powerful political influence in South Korea. But Pastor Lee says the church does not want to become politically active and instead puts more emphasis on the social gospel—helping the poor, like this project outside the church where  volunteers collect and dispense clothing for those in need.

Karen Kim is a pastor with the church’s international division.KAREN KIM: They have a lot of those projects. I think not just in our church, but I think churches around the world are starting realize that the debate between, you know, the social gospel-just the gospel—you can’t have one without the other, because you both, and they need to work hand-in-hand if you’re going to make a difference in our world.

SEVERSON: In the 1960s, Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita income of about $60. Today it’s around $30,000. South Korea is prospering. Pastor Cho says he knows one reason why.

REVEREND CHO: Jesus Christ. That is the only answer we can give. You come and try to study the reason of prosperity. You can’t find out any reason, because we don’t have a good politician so far. We don’t have great business people.

SEVERSON: And if Christianity is a factor in the prosperity of South Korea, Yoido is a significant contributor. Sixty years ago there were about 50,000 Christians in South Korea. Today it’s more than 10 million, and almost one-in-ten were baptized  in the Yoido Full Gospel Church.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Seoul, South Korea.

  • Brian Crossland

    What a great piece of journalism. Thanks lucky for the hard work and blessing us with something we don’t get to see very often, a positive message in a sometimes depressing world. Shalom

  • hardyandtiny

    She’s Australian?

  • James Aung (Torch)

    Hi Karen,

    It is great job. I personally enjoy reading “world biggest congregation”. May the new generation keep this big church as it is.

  • Donita Johnston

    My christian husband E.H.JOHNSTON served in the Korean war sixty years ago with THE US. MARINE CORP as a young man. He was blessed to be able to come home to live to eighty years and still serving GOD, After watching this story, it came to me that he helped in the cause of CHRIST unknowingly,& and only NOW are his efforts along with many others, come to frution. He has been battleing cancer for the last five years with the help of a wonderful KOREAN CHRISTIAN nurse that has become like a family member to us.Thank for for this story, it will allow many things to fall into place as we look back, and press on to the furture serving god.

  • Merry Zvi

    Great. Reverend Cho is a man on a mission. Be blessed always.

  • Andy Wang

    I’m from Hope church Singapore and a Singaporean exchange student at korea university from aug to dec 2011, and during those period I visited yoido’s regular service and attended the international service where pastor Karen is. I’ve to say yoido is indeed a spirit filled church, strong in cell group system, and believes much in the wonders of prayer. I hope their influence will continue to spread both in korea and internationally to advance God’s kingdom. Thanks for publishing this article and thanks yoido for their wonderful services.

  • Evans N Terkpertey

    I am Lighthouse Chapel International funded by Bishop Dag Heward-Mills who made me know Rev Cho and the good workw he is doing for the Lord. May God increase him and may they eat the fruit of their labor.

  • dan mendiola

    I was amazed for what the Lord is doing in this church led by ptr Cho. To God be the glory.

  • Rev. Jake Rock

    I was so moved and inspired when I saw this report today (8/ 12/12). We can so often get discouraged and hopeless when doing ministry and this report reminded how great God is and how He wants to reach people with the Gospel. We had our Lord’s Supper service at church tonight (MN Hardcore Church in Minneapolis) and I shared this story with the congregation. Thank you for showing this and keep up the good work!

  • Joy Garrattt

    Interesting story–please carefully research your facts about the history of Christianity in Korea. It did not take off a mere 60 years ago and there were far more than 50,000 Christians in the 1960s and 70s. An incredible revival began in 1905-1906 which broke down barriers between European-American missionaries and Korean converts, a reality that shaped Korean Christianity in so many ways.-there were probably already 50,000 Christians at that time–more than 100 years ago!!!! Please do a little bit more substantive background checking in order to insure that viewers will learn reliable information on your generally excellent program.

  • suresh dogra

    i wish believers had more intelligence than they actually have.material prosperity of korea is being attributed to christianity and jesus,the man who lived in utter poverty himself and said,” it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven.” bill gates is not a christian delusionist and yet is the richest man in the world.and then what about the claim of muslims that allah is gracious to them as he has given them the gift of oil.unless religion is tempered with sense it results in idiotic delusional effusions.

  • Chandana Barai

    Dear Pastor,

    Greetings in the Jesus name !

    I am from Bangladesh A.G Church and studying Korean Language in the Reformed Theological Seminary at Seoul.
    I gave birth a baby boy 21 February 2012 in Korea.

    Prayer Points
    1. Sponsor for my baby for his food & School;
    2. Sponsor for my School fees.

    Kindly pray for us & respond your prayer answer.

    May the Lord be with you all !

    Sincerely in Christ
    Chandana Barai

  • pastor. chris

    Greetings in the name of our lord Jesus Christ the bishop of soul ,i want to thank god for your life and the ministry I’m bless here in Nigeria with your books .

  • Esther Kim

    I just could not believe how one-sided this article is about this church. yonggi cho has done some good work of God, no doubt. many koreans have converted to christians through his preachings in the last century. but with much of the gift coming to the church goes right into his pocket. he buys buildings and companies around the world with the church’s money so that he could give them to his own kids and wife. It would’ve been better if it also mentioned the negative side of a ‘large church’ and the accusations this church faced.

  • John Low

    plss help me and i so hurtfull, pain, losing my faith, angry cos my wife fall in love with one of the christian korean man and now my wife left home and seeking for divorce . she 47yrs and that korean man 50yrs and i also 50yrs. we married for 22 year with 21yrs old son n 18yrs old daughter. she just left home after meeting that korean man cos my wife went to korea to meet him for a week and came back to malaysia told me she wanted divorce…she told me both of them are in love deeply…plss why all this happening..God help me…am in the state of giving up…its so painfull…

  • John Low

    i always respected korean as very committed christian people but why this man can do such thing to my family and break my family…why..plss God touch this korean man heart ..don’t do this plsss . plss lets go my wife …since i haven’t get my divorce letter yet..is not too late and i believed as long as i haven’t sign the divorce letter there still hope , so i pray that this korean man and my wife realize what they doing is Not right in God ways..

  • Pastor Yohanes Eko Lie

    hello pastor saya Pdt Yohanes Eko GBT Singkawang saya sangat senang dan benar benar d iberkati melalui pekerjaan Tuhan yang luar biasa telah terjadi di KOREA saya rindu kuasa Tuhan juga di infestasikan di kota kami Singkawang Kalimantan Barat Indonesia,GOD BLESS YOU Pastor

  • Pastor Yohanes Eko Lie

    hello pastor saya Pdt Yohanes Eko GBT Singkawang saya sangat senang dan benar benar d iberkati melalui pekerjaan Tuhan yang luar biasa telah terjadi di KOREA saya rindu kuasa Tuhan juga di infestasikan di kota kami Singkawang Kalimantan Barat Indonesia,GOD BLESS YOU Pastor

  • Random stranger

    I can be praying for you