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Yoido Full Gospel Church

Yoido Full Gospel Church (여이도 순복음 교회) is a Pentecostal Church in Seoul (서울), South Korea. Numbering 780 000 members in 2003, it is the largest known congregation in christendom. Founded and led by Dr David Yonggi Cho (조영기박사님) since 1958, it is one of the most internationally visible manifestations of Korean Christianity.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Ministries of the Church
3 What Now?
4 Related Articles (in Wikipedia)
5 External Links


Early Years: 1958-1961

The Yoido Full Gospel Church was founded by
Dr David Yonggi Cho (조영기) and Mrs Choi Ja-shil (최자실), both Assemblies of God pastors. On May 15 1958, a worship service was held in the home of Choi Ja-shil. Apart from the two pastors, only Choi Ja-shil's three daughters (one of whom later married David Yonggi Cho) and one elderly woman, who had come in to escape from the rain, attended the first service. The two pastors began a vigorous campaign of knocking on doors, providing spiritual and humanitarian help to the poor, and praying for the sick. Within months, the church had grown to fifty members, too many to accommodate in Choi Ja-shil's living room. Worship services were accordingly moved to a tent pitched in her backyard. As the church continued to grow over the following months and years, the church outgrew one tent after another. These tents were paid for by the two pastors (who were not salaried), supported by the meager offerings of parishioners, most of whom were poor themselves.

Pastor David Yonggi Cho began preaching on the Three-Fold Blessing (the blessing of the spirit, soul, and body), proclaiming that physical health and financial prosperity are as much a part of God's will for Christians as the salvation of the soul. Inspired by his message of hope, many previously uncommitted people joined the church, and by the beginning of 1961, membership had grown to a thousand. Having grown too large for its tent, the church purchased its first plot of land, at Seodaemun (서대문).

The Seodaemun Church: 1961-1973

The church's plans for expansion suffered a setback when Pastor Cho was called up for mandatory military service. Fortunately for the church, he was assigned to an American Army base near Seoul, allowing him to continue with his Sunday preaching, with the help of John Thurston, an American missionary. Cho's spell in the army turned out to be short-lived, as ill-health required a major operation and a subsequent discharge from the army. Although ill, Cho continued to pastor the church, and on 15 October 1961, an inaugural service was held in the new auditorium that had been built on the plot of land the church had purchased at Seodaemun. It was named the Full Gospel Revival Center.

Church membership continued to grow, reaching three thousand by 1964 and eight thousand by 1968. Three Sunday services proved insufficient to accommodate the crowds, and latecomers were forced to sit or stand outside in the parking lot and listen to the service over the loudspeakers. Overworked, Cho continued to be plagued by ill health, and he suffered a physical collapse while leading a baptismal service one Sunday. Realizing that the burden was too much for one person, Cho decided to restructure the church. Implementing a plan that he said had been revealed to him by God, Cho divided the city of Seoul into zones, with church members in each zone comprising a "cell" that would meet on a weekday for worship and bible study in the home of a "cell leader." Cell members were encouraged to invite their friends to attend cell meetings to learn about Christianity. Each cell leader was instructed to train an assistant. When cell membership reached a certain number, it would be divided, with about half of its members joining the new cell led by the person who had been the assistant. Cho later wrote a book in English about this concept of "cell multiplication", which has since been emulated by churches throughout the world.

Some of Cho's methods were controversial. He believed that women would make ideal cell leaders, having both the time and the desire to make home visits to other members, something that many men, for reasons pertaining to Korean culture as it was at that time, were unwilling to do. His decision to appoint women as cell leaders, however, went against the grain of Korean culture, which at that time was not open to the idea of women leading groups that had male members. He persisted, however, and the cell concept turned out to be an outstanding success. From 125 cells in 1967, the church has grown to several thousand cells today.

Aside from restructuring as a cell-based church, a Women's Fellowship was started in 1960, followed by a Men's Fellowship in 1963, to enable lay members to serve the church in a wide range of volunteer capacities. A church magazine, "Faith" was also started in 1967. Containing Bible studies, testimonies, and evangelistic messages, this monthly periodical soon spread far beyond Seoul.

The Yoido Church: 1973-present

Membership continued to grow exponentially, reaching ten thousand in the early 1970s. Having outgrown its Seodaemun premises, the church began looking for a new place to build.

Yoido Island (여이도섬), in the middle of the Han River (한강) which winds its way through the heart of Seoul, was at that time little more than sand dunes, without even a bridge to connect it to the city of Seoul. It seemed an unlikely place to build a large church. How would the congregation be able to travel to and from the island? Believing that he had heard from God, however, Cho and the other leaders of the church decided to purchase a plot of land on Yoido Island. Economic problems, including the 1973 "oil shock" which led to spiraling inflation and the loss of jobs for many church members, delayed construction of the new auditorium. However, it was finally finished in 1973, and and its inaugural worship service was held on 19 August of that year. A month later, Full Gospel Central Church, as it was now known, hosted the 10th Pentecostal World Conference at the Hyo-chang Stadium. Fifty-five thousand attended, including five thousand foreigners.

Membership of Full Gospel Central Church reached fifty thousand by 1977, a figure which doubled in only two years. On 30 November 1981, membership topped 200 000. By this time, it was the largest church in the world and was recognized as such by the Los Angeles Times. A special worship service was held to celebrate this milestone, with Demos Shakarian, President of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International as the guest speaker.

Beginning in the 1980s, Full Gospel Central Church decided to establish satellite churches throughout the city of Seoul and further afield, as it would not be able to keep on expanding indefinitely. Despite the expansion of the auditorium to seat twenty-five thousand in 1983, seven Sunday services were insufficient to accommodate the entire membership. As exponential growth continued unabated, reaching an incredible 700 000 by 1992, the need for satellite churches became more pressing. Despite the drain of members to the satellite churches, however, new recruits by the mother church - brought in through the vast cell network - have made up for the losses, and membership stood at 780 000 in 2003. The church, which was renamed Yoido Full Gospel Church in the 1990s, currently has plans to establish up to five thousand satellite churches by 2010.

Ministries of the Church

Yoido Full Gospel Church has established many ministries as part of its outreach program, both locally and internationally. There are too many to cover in such a short article, but a representative sample follows:

What Now?

In March 1996, the Seoul Logos Company published a 21-volume collection of Pastor David Yonggi Cho's sermons, delivered over his ministry of thirty-eight years. What the church regarded as a crowning honour came in September 1992, when Pastor Cho was elected Chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. This was the first time that international leadership of the denomination of thirty million members in sixty countries had passed out of American hands. He served in this capacity until August 2000. Pastor David Yonggi Cho, now assisted by a total of 171 associate pastors and 356 lay pastors, continues to lead the Yoido Full Gospel Church, whose status as the wold's largest congregation has been recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records.

Related Articles (in Wikipedia)

External Links