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Yoidio Church


Yoidio Church



Yoidio Church


There is a large church in Seoul Korea. OK, it’s gargantuan. It’s huge. It is basically a small country. It is the Yoido Island Full Gospel Church. The Pastor there is called Cho Yonggi, sometimes  David. It is a remarkable church on many fronts. First of all, it is remarkable for its size. Currently, it has about 1,000,000 members. Pastor Cho had intended to limit the church size to 800,000 because he said that’s all he could pastor. More remarkably, every one of the members is part of a small “cell” group. Some years ago, I was with Pastor Cho when a visitor was challenging him about the church size. The pretentious visitor said, “You claim 623,000 members. That’s ridiculous. Couldn’t it be 622,000? Couldn’t it be 624,000? Why on earth would you say ‘623,000?'” 

Pastor Cho looked puzzled and answered, “We only count the ones that are in cell groups–and tithe. Would you like their names?”

Yoido pastor

Even more remarkably, there is a tremendous structure for oversight, leadership, and pastoral care. Each cell group has an identified leader and an identified apprentice who is “learning the ropes.” Besides Bible study and prayer, the group has the solemn task of praying for, loving, and winning to Christ two people each year. While it does not sound overwhelming for ten people to love two more into the Kingdom and a relationship with Christ, when you think about it, ten people growing to twelve is a 20% growth rate. How would you like that with your retirement savings account!?! Remember that 20% is also annually compounded in the church! That is why it is so huge. 

Now they send out about 80,000 missionaries (or more) each year. They have a commitment eventually to send a million missionaries to Japan. When you know the painful history between the Koreans and the Japanese, deploying missionaries to Japan is a wonderful thing. 

Yoidio interior“The Church” building is not remarkable if you are used to typical sports arenas. It has sloped ramps to give access to different levels. Inside the main auditorium, there are about 30,000 seats. Tucked under the ramps are eleven additional auditoriums that seat 800 to 1100 people each. Then there are also remote hookups to ten or more remote locations off-site. where there is a video feed. 

Ushers, service people, and workers make up an army and they gracefully help people navigate through the facilities. Most newcomers, however, are Christian visitors from other lands, or if they are local, have probably been brought by the small group, so they are already assimilated into the church before they attend their first service there. 

Unlike many Western churches, where Christianity is defined by Sunday worship, gathering for worship is one of the activities for sure, but the expectation of the life of a Christian disciple includes a lot more than just Sunday attendance. They also lead people into changed lives, encounters with the power of the Holy Spirit, membership in a cell group, and all manner of discipleship topics. There are more than forty areas that they include in their discipleship model. 

Even more remarkable than the size, the facilities, and the mission are two other factors. First is prayer. When I first went to Yoido Island, I had heard about Pastor Cho praying for hours a day. I wondered how it could be possible for someone to pray for three hours a day. I came back doing it. After being with him and listening to the teaching, I visited Prayer Mountain. It is complete with a life-size copy of Noah’s Ark as a worship center and 365 prayer grottos carved into the mountainside. Each grotto has a doorway. You can tell if a grotto is occupied because the person’s shoes are left outside. One waits (sometimes for hours) for a grotto to become available. Inside, people pray. They pray in many ways and for many hours, often along the pattern Cho has taught around the Lord’s Prayer. 

Also breathtaking is the leadership structure. Each cell group has two leaders. For every 1,000 members (100 cell groups) there is a full-time pastor on staff. The staff pastors visit the cell groups. When they visit, they ask the people what is going on. When they get the topic that is most urgent in the lives of the people, the staff pastor delivers a teaching (from memory!) about the topic. While it seems like only forty topics may be too few, if you take a moment and actually try to write down a list of topics you will find that ten or twelve are easy to identify. Twenty or twenty-five are possible, but most people draw a real blank after that. Having staff pastors who can teach on forty topics at the drop of a hat may sound like superficial discipleship, but experience demonstrates otherwise. I have yet to meet anyone who was able to make a list of forty topics on their own. How does this compare with traditional seminary preparation for ministry? It is certainly more practical. In many ways it is much more effective. 

One day while I was sitting in Pastor Cho’s relatively small office, one of the administrators came in and said, “Pastor Cho, we have a problem!” They were very deferential and were using English for my behalf. “We are set to have a cell group leaders training session tomorrow at 2:00 pm at the Olympic Stadium. The government has just called and said that they need the highway that leads to the Stadium for a parade practice beginning at 1:00 pm. What should we do?”

Pastor Cho closed his eyes for a moment–I assume he was praying–and he said, “Tell the leaders to come at 10:00 am instead of 2:00 pm.”

I was stunned. He had just told his staff to move a meeting with all 119,000 cell group leaders and pastoral staff! He told them to have everyone come FOUR HOURS EARLY! In my experience, we can’t get people to re-set their clocks for Daylight Savings time even with months of notice! He was moving a meeting of 119,000 people on 24 hours notice! 

The next morning at 10:00 am, I was invited on to the floor of the Stadium. I looked around and saw every seat filled. In twenty four-hours, they had gotten in touch with all those leaders and had them all arrive four hours early. I was astounded. 

When it came time to pray, a leader cried out from the podium, “Cheeo, Cheeo, Cheeo!” Immediately, everyone in the stadium stood to their feet and all began to pray out loud. The effect was astounding. I had just come from Niagara Falls a few weeks before this trip to Korea. The sound of more than 100,000 people praying at the top of their lungs sounded remarkably like what the Bible calls, “the sound of many waters.” It sounded just like Niagra! 

In the course of the meeting, one of the main topics of the leaders’ gathering was prayer for union with North Korea. While that may sound strange, most Koreans have family members stranded in the North. The Korean Peninsula has a demilitarized zone (DMZ) that stretches across it only 20 miles north of Seoul. 

The North is cold and bleak. This photo of the Korean Peninsula shows how stark North Korea is. Notice that all over China, Japan, and South Korea there are tens of thousands of lights–millions. North Korea is almost entirely dark. That is an amazingly apt statement of not only the development of their  electrical grid, but also of their spiritual state. 

Along the DMZ, North Korea has place a huge number of S-23 180 mm artillery pieces. These giant guns fire a shell that is over 7″ in diameter. The range is 49,000 yards, which means that they could easily fire right into Seoul. The effect of that shell is like hurling a locomotive through the air. When it hits, great damage is done. 

Now, this week, with saber rattling from the North about firing nuclear missiles, many people are not concerned that they would either actually fire them, or that they have the capability to do so. It is folly to think that a 28-year-old dictator who has gone far out onto a limb would do nothing foolish. It may be that they don’t actually have the capacity to launch a nuclear missile strike. If they do, that is obviously very bad. If they do not actually have the capacity to fire a missile with a nuclear warhead, they could still easily cause a huge problem. North Korea has more than a million armed service members under arms. They have pressed another 8 million into reserve status. More than 25% of the GDP of North Korea is invested in the military. It would be exceedingly naïve to dismiss the possibility of a significant military action. Also of concern is the fact that there is a huge Special Operations force that trains diligently. While I would be surprised if they are pound-for-pound the military equivalent of Western forces or those of South Korea, they are still a huge force and could do incalculable damage, especially if they strike civilian population centers like Seoul. 

On the Cross of Christ, Satan was defeated, yet he still roams about “seeking whom he may devour.” The same could be said for the forces north of the DMZ. Forces that will not ultimately win can still do terrible damage. 

What is most important at this juncture is to remember that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood.” Even though there are people involved, there are spiritual forces of evil trying to egg them on. The most effective thing that we can do to directly impact the situation is to do what the people of the Yoido church are doing, and that is to pray. Pray for a defusing of the situation. Pray for the repentance of leaders who do not know right from wrong. Pray for the removal of the unrepentant. Pray for the peaceful unification of Korea. When we pray together, our prayers are multiplied. You can be sure that the people at Yoido Island Full Gospel Church are literally praying around the clock right now. It would be a good time to join it with them!