[Series II] The Growth of the Yoido Full Gospel Church

The Growth of the Yoido Full Gospel Church:
Its History, Factors, and Future Tasks

Written By HONG, Young-Gi (Ph.D.)
The Senior Pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.


B. The History of the Church

The YFGC was founded in the turbulent times after the Korean War (1950-53). The history can be divided according to the location.


1. Tent Church (1958-1961): The Early Years

The founding of the Yoido Full Gospel Church can be dated back to May 18, 1958, when the first worship service was held with the attendance of Pastor Cho Yonggi and Pastor Choi Jashil, my mother, in the living room of Pastor Choi Jashil. The first service was more a home worship service than what many conceive as a Sunday worship service. Beginning in the living room of Pastor Choi Jashil, the church experienced phenomenal growth as the work of the Holy Spirit was manifested in the church since the pitching of the first tent, making The first tent church symbolic of the now Yoido Full Gospel Church.

As many members of the congregation were healed through the power of the Holy Spirit and many others found solace and solutions to their problems, the church grew day by day. A paralytic patient for seven years recovered from the paralysis, and a shaman priestess repented of her sin and accepted Christ as Savior. Many suffering illnesses were healed as they experienced the great power of the Holy Spirit.

In the 1950's however, especially toward the close of the decade, Korea's situation, both economically and politically, was not rosy by any means. It was not long after the Korean War and there were many suffering poverty and chaos from the war's aftermath. Pastor Cho Yonggi was no exception. It was not uncommon for Pastor Cho Yonggi to satisfy his hunger with nothing other than three meals of porridge given him by an American evangelist. He also battled poverty along with the members of his congregation. In such desperate times, Pastor Cho Yonggi called out to God for messages appropriate for such harsh reality.

One day as he was reading the Bible, he heard the voice of the Holy Spirit and the message of the Three-Fold Blessing (the blessing of the Spirit, the soul and the body). Filled with confidence and certainty, he delivered the message of faith which led the congregation to positive, creative and productive lives. His messages provided faith, hope and confidence to those suffering from despair and hopelessness. The promise of God driven by his intense faith in God, led the church to experience incredible growth in three years. With the dawning of the new year, 1961, Pastor Cho Yonggi and Pastor Choi Jashil were filled with exuberance and hope for the new year. By then, the church had 1,000 registered members with 600 of them attending on Sundays.


2. The Church at Sodaemun (1962-1972)

The church entered into a new phase of growth at Dodaemun. On October 15, 1961, a church was established at the very place where the crusade had taken place and the first worship service was held. It was named the Full Gospel Revival Center. However, a problem, legal in nature, forced the Full Gospel Revival Center to acquire the help of an attorney, "Hwang Sung-su", and his expertise. His wise and dedicated counsel made the completion of the church a reality the following year.

Three years later, by 1964, the Seo-dae-mun church grew to a membership of 3,000. In the same year, Pastor Cho Yonggi was invited to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the American Assemblies of God, and He left on his first trip abroad. He attended the celebration as the one representing Korea, and having delivered a sermon in English, he did a splendid job of introducing Korea to all in attendance.

On March 1, 1965, Pastor Cho Yonggi was married to me. It was culmination of my mother, Pastor Choi Jashil's 10 years of praying.

The Full Gospel Central Church continued to grow to a membership of 5,000, then 6,000, then 7,000. By 1968, the church had 8,000 members, necessitating three services to be held on Sundays. Even with three services on Sundays, those who came late to the services were not able to find seats within the church, but were required to sit in the parking lot on vinyl mats as they listened to the worship service over the loudspeakers. Having to lead three worship services, Pastor Cho Yonggi continued his battle against exhaustion and overwork, delivering his messages with fervor and perspiration as he had always done.

At this time, home cell system was introduced. The home visits by the cell leaders proved to be an effective method in drawing the new members into the fold of the church. And with the continued wok of the Holy Spirit, these cells and the cell system worked effectively to promote fellowship between the members of the cells and the districts. In 1967, when the cell system was introduced, it consisted of 7,750 individuals of 2,267 families organized into 125 cells. Currently, YFGC has adopted the district system to better help all members of the church. On a weekly basis, district members consisting of district leaders, the elders, the deacons and deaconesses, and lay members gather together for meetings to further promote the growth of the church.


3. The Church at Yoido (1973 – present)

The membership of the church at Seo-dae-mun continued to skyrocket day by day. With the membership reaching 10,000, the Seo-dae-mun church was no longer adequate to accommodate all the members. Accordingly, the church began looking for a new place to build. Although many places were considered, it was not easy to find the right place to build a new church to accommodate its continuing growth.

It was then that the church moved to the Yoido. There were great financial problems but God helped the church. With the passage of time, the prayers to build the church were answered. So the first worship service at the now YFGC was held on August 19th, 1973. On September 18-22, 1973, the 10th Pentecostal World Conference was held at YFGC and the Hyo-chang Stadium with 50,000 Koreans and 5,000 foreign guests in attendance. On September 23, the inaugural worship service of thanks was held at the church with 18,000 church members in attendance. With this service, YFGC entered into a new era.

Following the relocation to Yoido, the church in 1977 grew to a membership of 50,000 persons, a mere four years after the completion of the church. The growth continued and reached 100,000 by 1979. Along with the numerical growth in number, the church also began to transform in other ways, including further expansion. On January 20, 1977, the 10-story world Evangelical Center (currently the First Education Building) made its appearance. Then on December 31, 1981, the 13-story Second Education Building was built. This building also contained a television studio which handled the broadcast of the worship services both domestically and internationally.

In March of 1973, the O-san-ri Prayer Mountain in memory of Pastor Choi Jashil was founded. Since then, many Christians have come to Prayer Mountain to fast and pray, receiving the Holy Spirit and experience Divine Healing as well as finding solutions to their individual and personal problems. This prayer mountain was named the "O-san-ri Choi Jashil Prayer Mountain" to honor Pastor Choi Jashill who had devoted her life to the founding and the growth of the YFGC from its very inception. Currently, along with the main sanctuary which was completed on July 4, 1982, there are countless numbers of private prayer rooms and 12 other smaller sanctuaries.

Two years following the growth of the church to a membership of 100,000 on November 4, 1979, the church grew to a number of 200,144 members on November 30, 1981. To celebrate such wonderous growth, a special worship service was held inviting Mr. Daemus Shakarian, the president of American Full Gospel Association of Business Owners. The L.A. Times reported on the growth of the church to 200,000 members and emphasized the YFGC as the largest church in the world.

With the growth to 200,000 members, Pastor Cho Yonggi began to establish independent churches around the country. One important point to note is that all such independent churches which were established eventually became the largest churches in their areas. This was not only true for the churches which were established domestically, but also for the churches which were established abroad.

Having reached 200,000 members, the growth of the church never stopped but continued until the membership reached 400,000 by October of 1984, making YFGC the fastest growing church in the world. The growth continued to 500,000 in 1985, and to 700,000 in 1992. Even though Regional Chapels began to be established in the early 1980s throughout Seoul's many districts and wards, becoming independent churches with certain freedom of autonomous control draining the membership of YFGC continued to grow to 700,000, which testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the 1980s, after the establishment and the inaugural service in 1973, YFGC entered into a phase of reconstruction to enlarge the capacity of the church. With the completion of the building expansion in May of 1986 of YFGC which had begun on January 22, 1983, the church was able to accomodate 25,000 individuals for each service. In November of 1984, the 33-meter monument of a cross and praying hands was built in front of the main sanctuary, and in 1985, the sculptured external wall of the church's facade was added.

In September of 1992, Pastor Cho Yonggi was elected as the chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Pentecostal Assemblies of God Fellowship now known as the World Assemblies of God Fellowship which had a membership of 30,000,000 members among 60 nations of the world. The election took place at the 16th Pentecostal World Conference which was held in Norway from September 9th to 13th, 1992. Up to that time, the Assemblies of God were in the control of the American leadership, but with the election of Pastor Cho Yonggi, the main impetus of the Holy Spirit movement was passed on to Korea.

The Full Gospel Educational Research Institute was established to educate lay members and to promote Full Gospel theology. It was renamed the Young-san Research Institute in August of 1990. In March of 1993, it expanded again and became the International Theological Institute, a specialized theological research institute. ITI was founded to further develop and promote Full Gospel theology and adopted the motto, "Think deeper, wider and forward,". It became an "assistant" to Pastor Cho Yonggi's ministry of evangelism.

In 1998, Cho began to pioneer a new period of his ministry, focusing on world mission and church planting. YFGC plans to found 500 daughter churches within five years. Cho wants to preach the gospel around the world until he will be called by the Lord. So new departments for church planting and world mission were organized in 1999 and preparing for a new dimension of ministry.


4. The Present Picture of YFGC

In 2006, YFGC complex embrace 676 assistant pastors (ordained and non-ordained), 1,335 elders, 86,445 deacons. The Church is now a finely turned organization with its membership divided into 24,376 home-cell groups in 17 large districts and 20 regional sanctuaries. On a given Sunday thousands of Sunday school children and teachers can be found meeting in small groups throughout the halls and rooms of church buildings. Foreign members and international guests are given special care and provided with a handset and instructions to select a channel with the appropriate simultaneous interpretation (one can choose between English, Chinese, Japanese, German, and French). Sunday services are also broadcast throughout Korea and abroad.

Regarding membership composition, women outnumber men by about three to two. Choi Syn-duk summed up the results of his survey of YFGC with the following: "The educational level, occupation and living conditions of the members of (Yoido) Full Gospel Church show that it is the Church of the middle and lower classes". ("A Comparative Study of Two New Religious Movements in the Republic of Korea: The Unification Church and the Full Gospel Central Church," in James Beckford (ed.) New Religious Movements and Rapid Social Change (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1986), pp. 113-45 (122).)  Choi's findings about the social class of the members of YFGC are still true today but we need to note that many working classes still exist in the Church. The Church now claims a membership of approximately 720,000 in 1999 (see <Table 1>).


To be Continued…


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