Houses of Worship: Yoido Full Gospel Church
Seoul, the capital of South Korea or the “Great People’s Nation” as its name translates in English, is home to almost 10 million people in a nation of 51 million and some 14 million of them Christians. The nation is unique among the Asian continent in that the spread of Christianity was not caused by visiting missionaries, but by a Korean native who found Christ traveling abroad and brought the religion to Korea, establishing the first church in 1784. There are now 20,000 Christian churches in South Korea and it is home to the world’s largest Pentecostal Church: Yoido Full Gospel Church.
Rev. Dr. Yonggi Cho was born in 1936. During the Korean War, he learned English from the American soldiers and in 1956 he went to Full Gospel Bible College to study theology. There he met Pastor Choi Ja-shil and together they founded the Tent Church in 1958 with just five members. Over time the church expanded and formed the Seodaemun Church and finally moved to Yeouido, a large island in Seoul on the Han River, where they established the Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1973. They had a television studio to broadcast their service by the 1980s and were in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest congregation with 700,000 members by 1993. Rev. Dr. Yonggi Cho was succeeded as senior pastor of the church by Young Hoon Lee in 2008.
The Yoido Full Gospel Church is Pentecostal, a form of Christianity that emphasizes the Holy Spirit and direct experience of the presence of God. Members of the faith, Pentecostals, hold that faith should be experiential, not practiced by rote ritual or contemplation.
The main auditorium of the church seats 12,000 parishioners at a time and broadcasts to 20 satellite churches, each with 5,000-10,000 members. Through their Sunday services they reach 200,000 parishioners every week in Seoul alone and have 800,000 total members and 526 pastors, making it the world’s largest Pentecostal church.