The World’s Largest Church
SEOUL, South Korea — Useless or You can have it. Those are the literal translations of Yoido. It derived the name because locals long-assumed the small island in the middle of the Han River was worthless real estate in the booming metropolis of Seoul, due to the threat of constant flooding.
But the founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC), Pastor Emeritus David Yonggi Cho, knew God wanted him to move the Assemblies of God church to this island with no bridges in the heart of Seoul. Today, YFGC sits on what has become much-coveted land.
Yoido (or Yeouido) Island has become Seoul’s main financial district and also houses South Korea’s National Assembly.
With 830,000 members, the congregation holds seven services each Sunday. It is by far the world’s largest church.
The sprawling campus includes two education buildings, a youth center, a world missions building, and a welfare services building — each towering in plots of land behind the stadium-style auditorium.
Other than the United States, South Korea sends more missionaries throughout the globe than any other nation.
The church provides medical support, emergency relief, hospice care, and also established the Elim Welfare Town — the largest such center in Asia.
If the church were its own city, it would be larger than Seattle, Boston, or Washington, D.C. So, it’s no surprise YFGC has a massive media production arm which includes a weekly newspaper, news-desk television reporting, and a telecast (FGTV) that reaches major media markets throughout the Earth.
Even before the phenomenal growth of YFGC, Cho was no stranger to the miraculous. Raised in Confucianism, Cho found no answer from Confucius for his near-death experience with tuberculosis. God healed him and it changed the trajectory of his life.
As Cho retired from decades of leadership at YFGC, Young-Hoon Lee was elected as senior pastor in 2008. Lee began attending YFGC in 1964 when he was baptized in the Holy Spirit as a child. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University in the United States and went on to pastor in Washington, Los Angeles, and Tokyo before returning to Seoul, where he also serves as the chairman of the Assemblies of God of Korea.
“Transitions are not always easy, but Dr. Lee has led well as the baton was passed to him by Dr. David Yonggi Cho,” says World Assemblies of God Fellowship Chairman George O. Wood. “Under Dr. Lee’s leadership, Yoido Full Gospel Church continues to grow and remain strong as the largest church in the world.”
Lee leads YFGC at a time when the world’s eyes are yet again on the Korean Peninsula. With the recent impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and an increase in weapons testing by North Korea, tensions have hit a decades-long peak. But the faithful at YFGC remain committed to prayer in the midst of tumult.
If any singular trait has characterized YFGC over the years, it is a passion for prayer.
Cho’s mother-in-law, Choi Ja-Shil, was noted for her extended times of prayer and fasting. It was Choi’s influence that led YFGC to develop a “prayer mountain.”
Every hour, a shuttle bus takes YFGC members to and from the Osanri Prayer Mountain. The complex is approximately an hour north of Seoul — just shy of the border with North Korea. The main sanctuary and 12 sub-sanctuaries allow more than 20,000 to worship simultaneously from the mountain retreat. There are four services each day on the mountain.
“Every year several hundred thousand Christians visit the prayer mountain to pray and experience God’s miracles,” Lee says. “I myself go to the prayer mountain every Saturday and pray for more than two hours to prepare for Sunday worship services.”
Strolling through the Osanri Prayer Mountain facilities, literal cries of prayer echo off of the rural hills. Whether on hilltops, in chapels, or in the 214 individual prayer grottos, petitions before God occur throughout the campus.
Leaders hope this heart for prayer will guide the future of YFGC.
“The church will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2018 and I trust that Dr. Lee will have many years of continued effective service,” Wood says. “His strong influence is felt throughout Korea and the world.”
As to the future of YFGC, Lee sees it firmly grounded in the Word and Spirit.
“My church enjoys a traditional heritage of the Holy Spirit movement based on the Word of God and will develop it in the future,” Lee states. “We will serve Korea and the world to be in the forefront of missions work and relief as the Church was in the Book of Acts.”