David Yonggi Cho was born Buddhist. When he was 17, he became gravely ill from tuberculosis but subsequently recovered. Attributing his healing to the God of Christianity, he became a Christian. After working as an interpreter for an American missionary and later for a Korean healing evangelist, he attended the Korean Assemblies of God Bible School. In 1958 he and his future mother-in-law founded a small church that grew to 300 in three years. It kept growing and by 1968, worship attendance was more than 10,000. In the years to come,
South Korea’s Yoido Full Gospel Church became the world’s largest-attendance congregation.
Thousands of Christian leaders from North America, Africa, Europe and Australia trekked there to understand better the new thing the Holy Spirit seemed to be doing.
Korea is about the land mass of Kentucky. Yet it’s home to five of the world’s 20 largest congregations, including the world’s largest Assembly of God, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist congregations, plus dozens of other churches that each draw more than 2,000 worshipers weekly. But Korean churches didn’t start setting size records until the 1960s.
What We Can Learn From Korea?
Today, Korea has one of the highest concentrations of megachurches, far more than neighboring countries like India, Japan or the Philippines—each of which has a much larger population—or than European countries where the gospel has been established much longer. Why? Fellow researcher Scott Thumma and I wrote a scholarly article to explain it. The gist: Overall, the global megachurch phenomenon is centered in new urban areas, often with a new and/or rapidly growing Christian population and growing economies, where the gospel addresses pressing social needs and where churches exploit both new formats and new technologies.
All these factors make Korea the ideal setting for megachurches to flourish.
As Yoido Church grew and Yonggi Cho became physically ill trying to do so much of the work himself, he devised an approach to member organization that:
utilized lay leadership and small home fellowships.
This hierarchical network of small groups simultaneously offered a way to provide social intimacy, personal prayer and pastoral care to thousands while also employing volunteer energy from the wives of poor laborers who had recently arrived in the rapidly growing urban area.
These women were organized, trained and empowered to be leaders at a time when Korean females had very little power in society. Additionally, this structure provided, in part, an urban replication of the small village system they had recently left.
Fellow researchers Scott Thumma and Warren Bird wrote a scholarly article trying to explain it, but the main reason is God´s Providence that can provide the answer:
According to the section 3.3 of the Divine Principle:
Korea, then, is the nation in the East where Christ will return. Let us examine from the viewpoint of the Principle the various ways in which Korea has become qualified to receive Christ at the Second Advent. As the nation to which the Messiah returns, Korea had to meet the following qualifications.