Yoido Full Gospel Church
Note: This paper reflects my own personal analysis of YFGC from my trip to Korea in April 1997. On May 3, 2000, I looked at this paper once again and marked any statistical changes in RED.
This church, located in
Seoul, Korea, is the mother of
all cell churches. As I documented in my dissertation, the modern cell
movement was born in the Yoido Full Gospel Church.
Korea is located between China on the north and Japan in the south. Both of these kingdoms have repeatedly tried to absorb Korea for two milleniums. Geoff Crowther and Choe Hyung Pun write, "Its [Korea] history is one of the world's most turbulent sagas of a small nation's struggle for survival against what would appear to be impossible odds" (1991:9). From the 7th century onwards Korea has come under the control of both China and Japan. Both of these superpowers have refined the religion, language, and culture of Korea. In 1945 the Japanese surrendered control of Korea to the Americans in the south and to Russia in the north. An uneasy pact was signed which could not prevent the war between North Korea (backed by Russia and China) and South Korea (backed by America).
What about the present day situation? Kevin Keating writes, "The Land of the Morning Calm is anything by calm. A couple of ex-presidents and a 6-pack of corporate mandarins have been indicted. Rumors of corruption continue, yet South Korea has produced an economic miracle in a little more than 40 years" (1997:163). I was very impressed with this economic miracle when present in April, 1997. Modernity could be seen in the giant skyscrapers, the new cars, classy signs, wide streets, and overall structure. I was impressed. I found it very easy to "live" in Korea.
trouble is on the horizon. The economic miracle seems to be slowing down. The
double digit economic growth has slowed down to six percent in 1997 and
economists are worried (Yoo 1997:1). Local
papers splashed news of new bribery charges of top level government officials
which include possibly the president himself. I was impressed with David Cho's
boldness to speak against corruption in the Korean government during his
message on April 6. 1997.
I sensed that Korean culture is similar in many ways to Latin American culture. There is a high degree of group orientation here. I noticed among the church members a high degree of "togetherness." They relaxed together, ate together, and just liked being together. Koreans are also very personal. Today, a friendly young man held me by the arm as he led me to my bus. I sensed that they were close, warm, and friendly. Crowther writes, "Most Koreans will spare no effort to avoid impoliteness or rudeness even if they feel otherwise. Abrasive Western reactions to incompetence, delays, mistakes, and dishonesty are totally unpalatable to Koreans.
Yet, unlike many Latin Americans, Koreans have succeeded in balancing people oriented with productivity and a high level of organization. The organization could be seen everywhere. Everyone had a place, a desk, a job. It reminded me of the early management and big business in the U.S.--even if a title and job is not available, it is valuable to create one.
Like Latin Americans, Koreans are very social status oriented. Crowther writes, "There is a fairly rigid social hierarchy and Koreans cannot even speak correctly without knowing who they are talking to. . . . In order to establish which form of address is correct, a Korean will want to know where you were born, how old you are, which school you went to, what position you hold in your job and several other things" (1991:23). I found this to be true. At times, I was grilled with the basic questions concerning job, school, and position. Even in the church, the elders congregate on one floor (with very nice furniture), while the senior deacons occupy another floor (less plush). 
I noticed strict hierarchical positioning throughout the church. The person assigned to me while in Korea could only help me according to the permission that she received from the one higher than her. Independent, free-thinking decision making is not highly esteemed. Organizational charts adorn the walls of almost every office. It is important for the Koreans to know who they are in relationship to everyone else. 
History of the Church (YFGC)
The history of this church is thoroughly documented in several of David Cho's own books and more recently in Karen Hurston's book, Growing the World's Largest Church (1995). For this reason, I refrain from repeating the work of others here. I was impressed with God's sovereign plan to build the largest church in the world right next to South Korea's capital building. As I walked along the banks of the mighty Han River and beheld the huge capital building on my right and YFGC just a short distance away, I couldn't help but give glory to our Perfect God. YFGC has a beautiful building, constructed with rich orange brick. A huge cross that suspends from two concrete pillars marks the entrance to the church, while a wide staircase leads into the main sanctuary. It is impressive.
How many people attend YFGC? The degree of uncertainty about statistics at YFGC is enormous. I have heard a wide range of calculations. For example, the brochure for the 1997 church growth conference quotes the figures of 750, 000 active members. Karen Hurtson places membership at 700,000 in her 1995 book. On February 20, 1993, the Yoido Full Gospel Church was recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records as the Largest Church (700,000 membership) in the world. However, one of the big questions is whether or not that many people attend the church. Many churches boast large membership but have far fewer attendees.
The only person that I know that has attempted to gauge the attendance
at YFGC is John Vaughn. According
to a 1996 report on the world's fifty largest churches, he listed
YFGC as number one with
560,000 people in attendance (360,000 attending the mother church and 200,000
in satellite churhces). Ralph Neighbour recently confided to me that he had heard
that there were approximately 150,000
people attending the mother church.
Before I attempt to arrive at an accurate attendance statistic for YFGC,
it is important to note the history of registered church membership at YFGC.
These statistics are derived collectively from
Cho's book (1981), Karen Hurston's book (1995), and Kannadday's book
Growth of the Church (YFGC)
figures only include membership and not church attendance. While present at
YFGC, I was highly motivated to
discover the truth about attendance.
I spent all day trying to attend every worship service, chapel, and
class room in the entire complex. I
started my task at 5:45 a.m. and by 8:30 p.m. I was "dead tired."
It was thrilling to see so many people in one place. The hum of
thousands upon thousands of active participants in every nook and cranny of
this huge church fully met my expectations.
Yet, I also came away with a new sense of realism about YFGC.
As mentioned previously, the 1997 Church Growth Institute brochure says, "Now this church has over 700,000 active members, and is the largest church ever to exist in Christendom" (Brochure 1997:2). Since being here, I would be more cautious to make the above statement. First, there are not 700,000 in attendance and second, it is very difficult to say whether more people passed through the huge Catholic basilicas of past centuries on a given Sunday. 
main sanctuary was surprisingly small. I
estimated that main floor and balcony can hold between 10-12,000 people.
No more. In contrast, Cho says, ". . . our church is quite a large
church. Presently, we have a church building which seats 25,000 people in the
main sanctuary, and with all the area auditoriums; we are able to seat between
40,000 to 50,000 people at one time" (1993:13).
If Cho is referring to the main floor and balcony, he has completely
overestimated the seating capacity. So
has Karen Hurston. Speaking about those attending the main sanctuary, she
writes, "The reverent hush awakens to a roar of concert prayer. Soon we
hear thirty-five thousand voices blend in a mounting crescendo of prayer
(1995:161). In my opinion, only one-third of Hurston's 35,000 can actually fit
into the main santuary (ground floor and balcony).
There are six basement chapels called: Antioch, Ephesus, Canaan, Jerusalem, Paul, and Solomon. The smallest can fit approximately 500 and the largest approximately 3,000.  Because pews are utilized at YFGC one can only estimate seating capacity. Out of the seven Sunday services, these chapels are full three of the services, considerably well attended for two services, and empty for the last two services.
there are more chapels in the three large, skyscraper type buildings located
next to the main sanctuary. These
buildings also house all of the educational facilities at YFGC (mostly hooked
up by video to the service taking place in the sanctuary). I made it my goal to open as many doors as possible,
and I succeeded. I literally spent the whole day Sunday going from the main
sanctuary, the various chapels, and every floor of all three YFGC
Departmental Activity on Sunday
the Sunday morning worship attendees, there were many departmental
congregations, preparing themselves spiritually as well as logistically for
their Sunday activity (e.g., ushers, parking lot attendants, public relations
people, and music people). There was no precise way to determine which groups should be counted as worshippers as opposed to
Sunday School attendees.
Educated Estimate of Sunday Worship Attendance
Various factors must be taken into account when trying to arrive at attendance statistics for this church:
1. At maximum capacity, the main sanctuary holds approximately 12, 000
2. The various chapels throughout the building hold approximately 12,000 people 
Hurston says that 20,000 children are taught each Sunday (1995:163).
Even though this figure appears high, since I did not get a reasonable
projection for children, I will use it.
MCI: STATISTICS AT THE MOTHER CHURCH
MCI: STATISTICS AT THE MOTHER CHURCH
The figure of 153,000 for the mother church does not include the myriads of departmental activity taking place in the church. Many spend the entire day at the church. The elders relax together on one particular floor, the senior deacons on another. Various mission committees gather their workers together. I witnessed drama groups, English classes, a church growth institute, a deaf ministry, public relations groups, choir rehearsals, and much more. Apart from these departmental groups, the twenty-four district offices are buzzing with activity throughout the day. Hurston writes, "Since Sunday is already the day most members come to church, every church office is fully staffed, often until seven that night. . . . Many lay leaders stay at the church, involved in one of a variety of activities, until late Sunday afternoon (1995:125). With these additional activities in mind, I endeavored to count each worshiper only one time.
Attendance at Regional Chapels
The greatest difficulty with ascertaining the overall attendance at YFGC is because YFGC includes various regional chapels in their statistical figures. While I was present in April, 1997 there were twelve regional chapels that were considered part of the attendance at YFGC.  Karen Hurston says, ". . . in scattered locations throughout the sprawling city of Seoul, others are filling one of YFGC's nearly dozen regional sanctuaries on giant screens. Together these facilities accommodate nearly sixty thousand for a single worship service (1995:160).  Cho himself seems to critique Hurston's figure when he says in 1995, "Most of the branch churches have between 10-15,000 members" (1995:15). 
Since my quest was not to determine membership but attendance, I probed various workers at YFGC. Rev. Song Ho, Lee, district pastor of the Yong San District, told me that most of the twelve regional chapels seat between 500 to 1,000 people (with the exception of the "2nd Sanctuary" which can hold approximately 9,000). Pastor Lee's observation was confirmed when I observed the picture of one of these regional chapels in Kannaday's book (1995:84). Pastor Lee told me that each chapel also holds seven services, just like the mother church. However, another Yoido Full Gospel missionary to the Philippines (who could speak very good English) told me that most chapels only held four to five services.
Let us suppose that each chapel held five services. This would mean that the 2nd Sanctuary would have 45,000 each Sunday (9,000 in five services) and the additional chapels would have a total of 55,000 in attendance (supposing 1,000 people attended each of the five services in the eleven additional chapels). This would bring the total of people attending the twelve regional chapels to 100,000. Adding this number with the total attending the mother church (153,000), we arrive at the composite figure of 253,000 people attending the Yoido Full Gospel Church every Sunday morning.
This number is a far cry from the 720,000 promoted by the church. It is also much lower than the statistics given by John Vaughn (560,000). However, it is still huge. For example, the mother church (without the regional chapels) at YFGC is more than four times larger than the Elim Church in San Salvador, El Salvador, and six times larger than the International Charistmatic Mission in Bogota, Colombia (before they moved to the indoor stadium in 1998). I continue to believe that YFGC is the largest church in the history of Protestantism and possibly in the history of Christendom. I would also strongly disagree with those who talk about the decline of YFGC. Decline from what! It is hard to believe that there was a time when more people were attending the Sunday morning worship services at YFGC.  It seems to me that the problem in the past has been inflated statistics, or at least inaccurate statistics.
I am still not sure how YFGC arrives at the 720,000 statistic. I was told that when a person gives money to the church, that person is place on the church's membership list.  Obviously, there is a problem with correlating giving with church attendance. A YFGC missionary to the Philippines admitted this discrepancy between "registered membership" and those who actually attend the church. This problem is similar to many churches in the United States which talk about numerous members but have far fewer attendees.
The number of
cell groups seems fairly accurate in the mother church.
Cho writes in 1995, "The Christians in my church all belong to one
of the 23,316 cells" (1995:15). When
I was present I observed close to 1,000 cells in several of the districts that
I visited. If there are twenty-four districts at YFGC, then this statistic
looks fairly accurate. However,
the above figure does not include cells from the branch churches, nor the
independent churches. Kannaday helps to enlighten us here,
Formerly, the Yoido Full Gospel Church had a network of some 50,000 Home Cells located throughout Seoul City, but this year , there are some 23,316 Home Cells. The reason for this reduction in numbers is due to the fact that many of the satellite churches that were previously included in the count are now self-supporting and independent. Their numbers are no longer included with the Yoido Full Gospel "Central" Church statistics (1995:13).
It is difficult to say how
many people are in each cell. However, one of the district pastors said in a
1994 interview, "The average number of members in each Home Cell is
5-10" (1994:130). Although he was referring to his district, if we were
to take an average of 7.5 members in each cell group, it would mean that there
were 174, 870 people attending the cells on a weekly basis.
There is no need here to repeat what others have already written about
this church. For example Karen Hurston provides an excellent analysis of the
church's doctrine (1995:135-146), general
organizational structure (1995:62-80; 108-123; 124-134), and prayer emphasis
(1995:36-61). Here I will only include those areas which caught me by
Number of Departments
Karen Hurston gave me some excellent advice before leaving for Korea. She told me that on Sunday I should try to open every door possible. I followed her advice. I was amazed to find so many congregations and departments in the church. Everyone has a place. One reason that YFGC has succeeded is that they everyone is not only involved in a cell but also in a ministry. On Sunday, I wrote, "This church skillfully combines the control of districts, the creativity of a myriad of departments, and the discipline of higher education." I observed several mission organizations scattered around the church. Ministries seem to have sprung up naturally and Cho has given his approval. Anything and everything seems to be acceptable at YFGC. Cho certainly does not try to "purge out programs" in order to maintain cell purity. No way. All community interaction is good. Here is where thinkers like Carl George and Dale Galloway fit into the larger philosophy of YFGC. It seems that Cho has tried to make the cells the base while adding on building blocks of specific programs. Karen Hurston adds,
Each of YFGC's more than twenty outreach fellowships targets a different segment of society, offering a wide variety of activities. Whether a person has a heart to help struggling churches, is a professional actor looking for a way to spread the gospel through drama, or is concerned for the homeless and disabled, an outreach fellowship invites involvement (1995:125).
After looking at the organizational chart of YFGC, I am convinced that the organization at in Tegucigalpa, Honduras comes the closest to the YFGC model. is a cell church with specific programs. The pastor of that church confessed to me that pure cell churches lack "something." In fact, I believe that LAC does more to integrate cell ministry than does YFGC. At Love Alive Church approximately 90% of the worshippers also have a cell group. At YFGC, I would speculate that many do not have a cell group. In fact, it is my observation that the males at YFGC finds more small group interaction in the various departments than in the cells.
The church is in the process of building a huge multi-million dollar
skyscraper for their daily newspaper. I hear that they now make over 1,000,000
copies of this daily paper. It both covers secular news as well as religious
news. Three full pages are dedicated to religious matters. The goals is to include
as many denominations as possible.
About this paper, Cho writes,
We [the church] have power within the society, with the government, and throughout the world. We are really shaking our nation through the publication of our daily newspaper. . . . In the daily newspaper, we publish four pages for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every day those Christian tracts added to the newspaper are given to a million people. What an influence we have. Government and business people all read our paper and are touched by the Christian message (1995:19).
The "newspaper outreach" is another example of the variety of programs promoted at YFGC.
Another outreach ministry is the Elim Welfare Town, a village for both
the elderly and delinquent young people. This facility is considered the
largest welfare facility in the Far East. Delinquent young people are trained
with practical skills and the elderly gratuitously find housing. YFGC also spawned off the Soon Shin University. As of April
1997 there were 1,600 under graduates and 800 graduate students studying at
I found that the worship service was very user friendly, high tech, and well-organized. In other words, I was impressed. There are numerous seats for visitors who speak foreign languages. There are simultaneous translations for English, French, German, Chinese, and Japanese in three of the seven Sunday services. I have never seen a communion service performed so quickly and efficiently. 12,000 people were served in a matter of minutes. Real wine and rice cakes for bread are passed simultaneously down the pews. Members sip the wine while with communion trays in hand, thus making it easier to immediately return the empty cup. 
As expected, the worship service was a beautiful combination of fervor, traditional hymns, fully dressed choirs, and sound preaching. There is a different choir for each service--fully dressed in bright, elegant, and matching robes. A conductor leads both the orchestra and the choir.
Cho's preaching was soundly Biblical. He called the church to repentance over and over, specifically rebuking superficiality in the congregation. Cho boldly spoke against corruption in the Korean government, even to the point of naming the current Korean president and the scandal taking place. Concerning Cho's preaching, I wrote, "Cho is one of the best preachers that I know. He gave a very clear illustration of the political corruption in Korea. He goes from the Word to illustrations. His preaching is big. He talked about Achan being in Korea."
For years I have heard that YFGC prays together simultaneously. What a joy to finally hear so many voices raised in one accord to the throne of God! It reminds me of the practice of MCI at the end of a morning worship service. Diligent prayers (often in tongues) ascend to the throne in unison. A bell rings to silence the worshipers. After the bell rings, silence fills the room.
The early worship services cater to the adult population at YFGC. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the afternoon worship services minister to the young people. The ushers and choirs come from the youth as well.
Workers at YFGC are clearly distinguishable. Women ushers dress in
bright blue and white Korean dresses. Elders who serve communion wear white
gloves while serving. All male workers wear white coats. All of them wear
badges, distinguishing their role.
The Use of Close-Circuit T.V.
YFGC has perfected the use of close circuit T.V. The entire service is
projected on a huge screen on the main floor of the sanctuary. Projections of
the entire congregation, clips of Cho's current crusade (when he's away),
Scripture reading, and words of the hymn can be seen on the large screen.
These pictures are transmitted simultaneously to hundreds of T.V. screens
throughout the complex. Particular services
(especially when Cho preaches) are transmitted live to the various chapels
throughout the church. At other times, one of the 700 pastors might preach at
the separate chapels, while another pastor is preaching in the main sanctuary.
At all times, there is someone in
charge in each of the chapels.
Areas of Strength in the Church
There are so many areas of strength in this church. It seems that there is something for everyone in this church. Those who emphasis spiritual warfare discover a kindred spirit here. The more programmatic church growth technicians find justification at YFGC. Cell-based gurus quote this church frequently.  Perhaps G. L Johnson sums up the sentiment of many when he introduced the 13th annual church growth conference at YFGC, "Dr. Cho's life and ministry have touched the whole world for Jesus Christ. He has inspired more people to fill great churches than any other man alive" (1994:11). I wholeheartedly agree.
Because Cho and the YFGC is so diversified, I believe that it is best
to place this church in the "church growth camp" rather than into a
strict cell-based model. Here were a few areas of strength that I noticed.
According to their recent 1997 brochure promoting their 16th annual church growth conference,
In 1980, Dr. Cho inaugurated the annual Church Growth International Conference introducing to the pastors and lay Christians from around the world the principles of church growth and the home cell. Since then, thousands of pastors and lay Christians have been trained and a multitude of churches have experienced similar church growth in their local churches (brochure 1997:2). . . . You will become a believer in this new way of evangelism, care, spiritual maturation, and fellowship. We are talking about a totally different church based on on the home cell. The home cell has been the backbone of Yoido Full Gospel Church. Any church that wishes to implement this concept has to be completely reorganized into a cell-based church. . . . On Sunday, you will also attend one of the main worship services, an experience that will convince you of the power of the home cell. . . . Home cells are run by lay people, through training is provided by the pastor (Brochure 1997:2).
My initial impressions about cell ministry were positive. Approximately twenty-four districts operate throughout the day on Sunday. These districts are clearly geographical. The desks of the paid sub-district leaders surround the desk of the district leader.  Each district has between twelve to twenty-three sub districts and each sub-district contains about ten to fifteen sections. Each section contains between five to fifteen home cell groups. Each cell has approximately five to ten households.
The vast majority of cell groups are led by women. Hurston writes,
"But the most prevalent groups--in 1993 numbering twenty-eight
thousand--remain the women's groups (1995:91).
my extensive interview with Rev. Song Ho Lee, district pastor of the Yong San
District, he told me that nine out of every cell leader is female, and that
the females only minister to other females.
YFGC excels in this area of spirituality. The church can be summarized in the phrase "A spiritual church." Members wrestle in prayer. Spirituality is taken seriously. The imagery of solider and warrior best describe this church. What a thrill to walk by the grottos at prayer mountain and hear the cries and pleas of Korean saints ascending like incense to the throne of God. I was told that 1,000 prayer warriors pass through prayer mountain every day. So many of these dear saints of God are dedicated to personal prayer as well as corporate prayer. There are daily corporate morning prayer services and evening worship services. At 5 a.m. in the morning I witnessed approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people in the main auditorium fervently praying. In fervent pleas to God, these believers rock back in forth while seated in the pew. Loud crys can be heard throughout the auditorium as the believers pray in unison. This church is alive with spirituality.
Although spirituality is clearly the emphasis at YFGC, this is not to
say that there is no place for scholasticism.
There is a four year theological institute for those desiring to enter
the ministry and a Pentecostal Training School for all members.
Normally, the early morning prayer begins with a time of reflection
upon the Word of God.
Vision, Dreams, & Goals
YFGC is the result of the dreams and vision of one man of God--David Yonggi Cho. As I strolled along the Han River and looked at at the towering structure called Yoido Full Gospel Church, I felt compelled to praise God for the vision that God placed in this one man. Cho is a dreamer. He lives in visions and dreams. He has personally lifted me to a higher understanding of vision and leadership. His flaming vision has now been passed on to 1,000s of leaders. Cho writes,
starts from visions and dreams. Before you worry about giving birth to a child
you must first become pregnant. So as a cell leader, you must become pregnant
about your cell system and about soul winning. . . . So a clear goal and
goal-led visions and dreams are very, very important. When people do not have visions, they do not believe.
They do not work (1995: 22).
Cho writes, "If you don't get organized, then people will not
work" (1995:18). The organization of this church is outstanding.
Although these people are "Spirit-led" they also are
excellent planners. Flow charts hang on every wall--complete with
photographs and colors representing positions. Computers and other high-tech
equipment are utilized with great effectiveness.
Everything is modern at YFGC--the elevators, the vending machines, the
furniture, the buildings. Goals are posted in most district offices.
Buses run almost every hour (precisely on time) from
the church to the prayer mountain. Those at YFGC are not afraid to take
advantage of modern technology to enhance the work of God.
YFGC takes missionary work seriously. There are over 300 missionaries
sent out from YFGC-166 in North America (Kannaday 1995:139).
YFGC supports these missionaries until they can become independently
stable. Along with their world mission department, I noticed a mission agency
(from YFGC) to Red China, and various other missionary organizations in the
church. One entire skyscraper building is entitled "Administration and
World Mission Building."
Weaknesses of the Church
In a church so powerful and influential, it is hard to point out
weaknesses. Yet, there are a few.
In a church so powerful and influential, it is hard to point out
weaknesses. Yet, there are a few.
Cell group ministry at YFGC has both its strengths and weaknesses.
Although this church was the forerunner of the modern cell movement, this
ministry seems to have lost some of its early momentum.
Lack of Men's Groups
YFGC has not sufficiently penetrated the male population of the church. The vast majority of cells in this church are women's groups (one district pastor told me that nine out of ten cell leaders are female). An ever-increasingly reality is that women are no longer staying at home in Korea. As Korea continues to develop as a modern nation, more women are joining the work force. Many women who at one time could both lead and attend a daytime cell group, now can do neither.
Earlier, I made the comment about men finding more relationships in the
congregational departments throughout the church. If in fact, the cells have
not penetrated the males in the church, can we say that it is indeed a cell
church? Although Hurston talks about children's cell groups and youth cell
groups (1995:92-93), the two main categories are men and women.
I was told that each district has has several youth cell groups as well
as elderly cell groups, but even these groups meet as male or female. With
such strict lines drawn between men and women, one wonders where the family as
a group receives pesonal ministry? This
is not an easy answer, but it should be addressed.
Cell Ministry Tends to be One of the Features
I have noticed throughout the years that Cho emphasizes other aspects of church growth at YFGC as much as he does the cell structure. When he talks about the cell structure he is convincing, but it seems to be only one of the features here. For example, Cho holds an annual church growth conferences as opposed to a cell-based ministry conference. At the 1997 annual church growth conference, Rick Warren and Bill Hybels will be the featured speakers (Meta model) along with Larry Stockstill and Billy Joe Daughtery (Pure Cell model). For Cho's philosophy, the distinction is not a large one.
Nor does the organizational chart properly represent cell ministry. In
my visitor package (April, 1997) I received a recent organizational chart of
YFGC. Of the eight directors over entire departments, only one of them is
directly connected to the cell ministries of the church. It is under the
director of pastoral care that the districts, regional chapels, sub-districts,
youth evangelism district, and
handicap mission district (children's cell groups fall under the director of
educational division) fall into place. I'm reminded of my similar confusion
when reviewing the chart at AMV.
Lack of Integration between Cell and Additional Ministries
I also sensed little integration between departments and cells. How do the elders relate to cell groups? They are supposed to attend, but their true heart to heart fellowship takes place through the homogenous department called "elders." These departments and sub-departments spread over three huge skyscraper buildings. Hurston says, "After attending a Sunday morning worship service, many lay leaders go to one of the nearly twenty mission outreach fellowships for a devotional service in an office in the World Missions Building"(1995:126). These are all essential outreaches, but it is difficult to know how they precisely relate to cell ministry. There is no mechanism built into the geographical cell system at YFGC that integrates the departmental ministries with the cells. Perhaps, we need to pay serious attention to the way MCI has related the cell ministry to the various departments.
Another interesting factor that seems to contradict the strict
cell-based ministry model is the two-tier system of leadership. On one hand,
there is the cell system that employs most of the full-time pastors. On the
other hand, there is a lay-leadership system working along side the
cell-system consisting of deacons/deaconesses, senor deacons/deaconesses, and
elders. These are non-paid workers who are supposed to attend the cells. They
also hold a lot of power, in that the elders serve as Cho's "governing
board" and "advisory council."
Hurston goes into great detail in describing this system (1995:62-80).
Lack of Creativity in Cell Model
The writings of Cho today about cell ministry appear very similar
to what he wrote in 1981. In some ways, stability is a plus. Yet, in the case
of cell ministry at YFGC, I believe it is a weakness. There seems to be a
overall lack of creativity and new ideas in the cell ministry at YFGC.
Rev. Song Ho Lee told me that cell ministry has remained static for
quite some time. It seems to me that the new, exciting energy at YFGC today is
directed toward the newspaper, the mission outreach, the men's outreach, Cho's
crusades, and other similar endeavors.
Size of the Main Sanctuary
The sanctuary at YFGC is huge in comparison with the average church
building. However, it seemed comparatively
small for the largest church in the history of Christianity. When I first saw
the Yoido Full Gospel Church I wrote,
The outside structure of all four main buildings are very impressive. They are modern, well built structures. Yet, I was disappointed by the seating capacity. The bottom floor seats no more than 6,000. The balcony might seat 4,000. I believe that I am being liberal.
Many sanctuaries throughout the world are larger (both
Catholic and Protestant). The main sanctuary
of the Elim Church in El Salvador is as large as the main floor at YFGC.
I do not understand how the church can promote a membership of 700,000+
while having only 250,000 in attendance (1/3 of "membership").
Although at this point I'm not certain how they count "tithing
members," they certainly do not count active tithing.
This discrepancy should be addressed.
Cell Organization at Yoido Full Gospel Church
growth is taking place in this church. Although
many reasons for this growth could be listed,
one key reason is the cell system.
Development of the Cell System
I won't go into detail here about the development of the cell system. Much has already been written about Cho's calling into cells, the early establishment of his structure, and the ongoing ministry of the cells (Hurston 1995:81-88 and Cho 1981). It is important to mention that Cho's initial dependence of women continues to influence the cell structure at YFGC. I used to think that Cho used women leadership because they were the "preferred option." I realize more and more that at one time, they were Cho's only option. I also thought that women led both men and women, but that is not the case. Almost exclusively, women lead women and men lead men.
According to Hurston, in January, 1994 there were 32,000 cell groups (1995:88). In another place Hurston mentions 28,000 women's groups (1995:91), one thousand youth cell groups (1995:91) many children's home cell groups (1995:91). However, more recent statistics tell us that there are 19,704 women's cell groups, 3,612 men's cell groups, 569 children's cells (Kannaday 1995:139). It's amazing to think that there are only 3,612 male cell groups to care for a congregation of some 253,000 attendees!  Yet, Cho does not flinch at those statistics. He turns them into a positive blessing. He states,
of our cell leaders are women. . . . 70 per cent of them are women.
Men are very slow to hear from the Lord.
Women are a treasure in the church.
In the Western culture, they are not using women very much and that is
a curse in society, but in the church we are using women freely (1995:31).
The administrative structure is geographical. The homogeneity of the
groups fit four categories: men, women,
youth, and children. The children's cell groups are organized under the
Christian education department- they are not administered through the
twenty-four geographical districts. Neither is there a separate youth
district. The youth cells fall in line under normal sub-district/section
groupings. Like the adult groups, the youth are divided into female and male
The administrative structure is geographical. The homogeneity of the groups fit four categories: men, women, youth, and children. The children's cell groups are organized under the Christian education department- they are not administered through the twenty-four geographical districts. Neither is there a separate youth district. The youth cells fall in line under normal sub-district/section groupings. Like the adult groups, the youth are divided into female and male cells.
Leadership is divided into district pastors, sub-district pastors, and
section leaders. Over all the
entire cell ministry and under the direct leadership of Pastor Cho is the
director of Pastoral Care Department. This pastor oversees the district,
sub-district, section leaders, home cell leaders, and assistant home cell
leaders. According to the
literature that I received on April, 1997, there were twenty-four district
leaders, 449 sub-district leaders, and 2,077 section leaders.
The director, district leaders, and sub-district leaders are all
full-time staff. Since I was told
that there were 700 staff pastors at YFGC, this would mean that out of the 700
full time staff, 474 are directly connected to the cell ministry (68%).
Male Leadership at Top Levels
As of March, 1995, there were 3,612 male home cell leaders as opposed
to 19,704 female home cell leaders (Kannaday 1995:139). This means that there
are more than five times as many women's groups as men's groups. Interestingly
enough, of the 719 full time pastors, 433 of them are women, yet very few
women (if any) occupy higher
levels of leadershi. Women hold
the positions of cell leaders, section leaders, and sub-district leaders
(paid), but the positions of district leader, director of Pastoral Care
Department, all elders, and all
preaching pastors are male. This fact reveals to me that female leadership is
a necessity due to effectiveness of reaching other women. However, Biblical
and cultural norms are guarded at higher levels of leadership.
Various Additional Departments
I have already mentioned the eccletic nature of YFGC. The church is
primarily administered by cell groups, but there are plenty of other departments
and programs in the church. Cho writes, "In the main church, of course,
you must have Men's Fellowship, the Youth Movement, and other organizations.
In the church you have all the traditional departments so they can enjoy
fellowshipping with one another. Once they leave the church, then they belong
to another world (1995:17). In
the same context, Cho makes the point that the cells are the base of the
church. However, we have already noted that a large percentage of the males in
Cho's church do not attend a cell group.
Strict Hierarchical Control
The strict hierarchical control of the Jethro system fits smoothly with
the norms of Korean culture. Everyone has a place in the system. For example
Cho writes, "The sub-district leaders are constantly questioned and
encouraged by the large district pastor, 'If you do not work properly, you
will be punished'" (1995:17). Such
Language would certainly not be acceptable for leadership structures in the
U.S. Yet, in a hierarchical society like Korea, leadership flows from top to
bottom. The leadership structure at YFGC is even diagramed by a pyramid--Cho
at the pinnacle while each under-shepherd makes up the funnel (Kannaday
There is a sample monthly statistical form given in Kannaday books
(1995:152-153). However, according to Hurston, these forms are no longer used.
She writes, ". . . because of the growth of the number of men's and
women's groups since that time, the only written report now submitted to the
church is the offering amount and date of the meeting on the front of the cell
offering envelope" (1995:217).
Pure Cell Model
I have been studying the Pure Cell model for the last five years. It
have concluded that YFGC is the mother of most of the other cell churches
around the world. Although other
churches have perfected their cell ministry beyond that of YFGC, the original
formula was concocted right here. Although
I have been discovering weaknesses in the cell system here, YFGC continues to
base its church philosophy on the cell system.
This quote by Cho is revealing,
If you don't want to change the structure of your church, do not go into the cell system. It will only be an added burden to you, and it will die. Many people come to me saying, 'The cell system is working in Korea, but not in America and other parts of the world. It is only according to the culture.' Is is not a cultural thing" (1995:17).
He even gets more specific by saying, ". . . if you want to
organize a cell system; you must restructure your church. You must get your
church totally involved in the cell system.
First, divide the city into districts, sub-districts, sections and
cells, and get everyone involved in the system "(1995:18). Cho becomes outright dogmatic when he states, "If you
are not going to change the basic structure of your church, then don't even
dream of planning a cell system" (1995:19). The following table
highlights some of the basic characteristics that not only characterize YFGC
but other Pure Cell churches around the world.
YFGC is unique in that it was the forerunner of the cell church design.
There is a lot of confusion concerning what actually takes place at a cell meeting at YFGC. There is an official order for the cell meeting, but it appears that many do not follow it.  For example, the man who debriefed all foreign guests after the 9 a.m. service, told the group of visiting foreigners that the cells at YFGC pray for forty minutes and do Bible study for twenty minutes. He said that each person is prayed for individually.  On the other hand, District Pastor Yongbae Kimone district pastor responds to the question about cell order this way, "We do not have any special format for the Home Cell Meetings. Sunday worship services are the typical example for all other meetinggs in our church" (1994:131).
The lessons for the home cell meetings are contained in
seven books by David Cho. These books comprise the compilation
of his sermons and writings in cell format (1994:131).
Rotation among Cell Groups
Cell groups rotate from house to house on a weekly
basis at YFGC. The
reason for this rotation is both Scriptural (house to hosue)
and practical (it blesses a variety of homes). However, the
". . .unwritten rule is that no home should host a
group more than once a month" (Hurston 1995:90).
Multiplication at Yoido Full Gospel Church
How has YFGC raised up so many cells and cell leaders? How have they successfully multiplied their cell groups?
Emphasis on Cell Multiplication
It seems that the mother-daughter method is primarily utilized as opposed to cell planting from scratch. One of the district pastors at Yoido Full Gospel Church writes, "And when a Home Cell has 12-15 members, it is divided into two. At that time the section leader encourages and trains a new Home Cell Leader to be bold and carry out a Home Cell Leader's duties" (1994:130).
However, it appears that there are varying degrees of
research points to aggressive evangelism by some cell leaders
while other groups multiply more slowly (1995:92-93).
made one random sample survey of 340 cell groups from eight
different districts. Those groups reported that people from
472 families had been born again and applied for church
membership during that past year. However, a little more than
half did not report any new people in their groups being born
again and applying for church membership (1995:218).
It is clear that Cho asks each leader to dream God's
vision and to think God's thoughts for the cell group. Goals
are written down and then meditated upon.
Multiplication at Ten
It was very enlightening to find out from Rev. Song Ho
Lee that cell multiplication takes place in his district when
there are ten people per group. I questioned him several time
on this area, and he seem to confirm this fact.
Weaknesses of Cell Multiplication at YFGC
I witnessed very little real creativity with regard to cell multiplication and outreach at YFGC. Rev. Song Ho Lee told me that attendance in the the cell ministry was the same today as it was five years ago. There are no church wide goals for cell multiplication as in MCI, CCG, and AGV.
It seems like Cho has drastically limited himself to a
ten percent quoted that would appear strange at the
International Charismatic Mission or the Elim Church.
For one who promotes such positive thinking, this seems to be a
negative self-limit. Perhaps, the reason for the lack of cell
success is the limitations between men and women cell leaders
and perhaps the lack of creativity.
Leadership Patterns at Yoido Full Gospel Church
The largest church in the history of Evangelicalism has
successfully nurtured, trained, and employed thousands upon
thousands of lay leaders.
It is important to analyze how YFGC has accomplished
There are various qualifications to become a cell leader. District Pastor Yangbae Kim writes, "The qualifications to become a Home Cell Leader are regular attendance of church services, giving tithes, fullness of the Holy Spirit, and devotional posture" (1994:133). In an in-depth interview with District Pastor Song Ho Lee, I learned that a potential leader must first attend the church for more than three years, be baptized in water and in the Spirit (with the evidence of speaking in tongues), and attend the worship services faithfully. From Hurston's observations, only section leaders are required to speak in tongues (1995:76). She also notes that to become a section leader, in contrast with a cell leader, one must be a cell leader for at least two years (1995:75).
Interestingly enough, he told me that there were no
educational requirements for cell leaders. I learned that the
at YFGC are for everyone. Pastor Lee told me that
it is preferred that all potential cell leaders receive
Christian education at YFGC,
but it was not mandatory to become a leader.
Normally a cell leader emerges naturally from among the group itself. Kim writes, "The new cell leader is chosen among the same Home Cell Group Members. If necessary, the existing Home Cell Leader or a section leader recommends an appropriate member capable of leading the new Home Cell" (1994:133). Hurston emphasizes five qualities of cell leadership essential at YFGC: contagious enthusiasm, clear testimony, dedication, access to time and money, and the Spirit-led life (1995:73-74).
Cho believes that the first and most important
characteristic to form in the life of a potential cell leader
is the capacity to dream big dreams (1995:21-27).
After each cell leader catches the vision to dream
God's vision, Cho encourages them to write the vision down on
paper. From the
piece of paper, he then encourages the leaders to look at the
vision and live in the vision (1995:27).
Afterwards, he teaches his leaders to think positively
and not to allow negative thoughts to sway them (1995:27-32),
to speak the Word of God (1995:32-37), and to work with the
Holy Spirit (1995:37-43).
Cho believes that only ten percent of the lay people
will ever be mobilized for ministry. After years of endeavoring
to reach 100 percent mobilization, he is now
content with ten percent. He writes, "So far I have only succeeded
in mobilizing 10 per cent of my congregation. I have
tried every way I know. I have pushed, I have pulled, and I
have tried to scare them. Still only 10 per cent have been
mobilized" (Cho 1995:13).
Various Types of Leaders at YFGC
There are various levels of leadership at YFGC.
On one hand leadership meets at the cell level while on the other hand
leadership functions around the deacon-elder paradigm.
Cell System Versus Church System
As of March, 1995, there were 2,990 senior deacons,
21,169 junior deacons, 3,712 senior deaconesses, 54,596 junior
deaconesses, and 919 elders (Kannaday 1995:139). This becomes
confusing to me because there are two leadership branches at
YFGC. One works through the cell system (some are paid staff)
while the other is volunteer lay leadership that works with
and outside of the cell system.
At first I thought that they were separate entities,
but there does seem to be some overlap. District Pastor
Yangbae Kim writes,
Each sub-district has
1-5 elders, 15-25 senior deacons and deaconesses, 15-20
section leaders and 80-100 Home Cell Leaders. Elders oversee
the sub-district and Home Cells, helping the sub-district
pastors. Senior deaconesses are well distributed to the Home
Cells (quoted in Kannaday 1995:128).
From this quote it seems that the elders and senior
deacons actually oversee districts.
Might there be authority conflicts?
Pastor Lee assured me that the various leaders submit
to one another. However, it does seem quite complicated.
Team Leadership in Cell Ministry
It appears that the team system is weak in this cell
system. In fact, many groups do not have assistant leaders at
YFGC. In response to a question about the number of assistants
in his district, Pastor Yangbae Kim writes, "Our district
does not have so many assistant Home Cell Leaders at this
I will only touch on a few of the leadership duties
present at YFGC. There are many more which need to be studied
There is a heavy emphasis on visitation at YFGC.
Hurston strongly emphasizes this aspect of cell leadership
(1995:95,109-120). One of the district pastors at YFGC
The District Pastor supervises the sub-district pastors. Every day he visits the homes of the sub-district members in turn with the sub-district pastor and He preaches the Word. . . . Every month he goes up the the International Fasting and Prayer Mountain. . . . the District Pastor sets a goal for growth for the District, and encourages the sub-district pastors to reach the goal by the end of the year" (1994:125).
According to a 1987 survey (ten years ago) of 400 lay leaders, the average cell leader visited between three and five households each week (Hurston 1995:218). 
From my observation, district pastors and sub-district pastors spend the majority of their time in visitation. In fact, the only required weekly report is the number and type of visits that each district pastor has accomplished.
Discipleship of new believers is intimately related to
cell visitation at YFGC. The sub-district pastor and the
section leader visit the new convert. They share testimonies
and the person prays once again to receive Christ. These new
converts are placed in the most appropriate cell (based on
age, civil status, and location) in that his or her section of
the city (normally the choice is between five to ten cell
Setting Growth Goals
The above quote also tells us that the District Pastor
sets a goal for growth for the District which is then carried
on by those under him. It seems that goal projection is a key
activity for cell leaders at YFGC. Cho writes, "Many
people criticized me because I was giving goals to my people
then encouraging them to accomplish the goals.
But if you don't give them a goal, they will have no
purpose to being in the cell" (1995:18).
He goes on to say, "Many churches are failing in
their cell system because they do not give their people a
clear goal and remind them constantly of their goal. If they
have no goal, then the3 people will gather together and just
have a grand fellowship" (1995:18).
This quotes stirs with me with passion because I have
also noticed that the most radical, effective cell ministries
today are the most goal oriented.
Making Personal Contact
The growth goals are meaningless unless the cell leader
is willing to reach out and touch his or her neighbors. Cho
writes, "I have found the only definite way to increase
church membership is through personal contact, and personal
soul winning. If
you know the person, it is better. Since you are personally
touching your neighbors, through the cell system, it is far
easier to win them to the church" (1995:19).
Personal contact not only involves evangelism, cell
leaders distribute gospel literature (Hurston 1995:102-104),
as well as meet physical needs (Hurston 1995:104-105).
Prayer is a way of life at YFGC. I believe that it is the key behind the success of this great church. Hurston relates several illustration of cell group victories through the ministry of prayer (1995:102).
Although a lot is
cell leader training at YFGC, I discovered little specific cell leadership training. Cho writes,
We have a Cell Leaders' Bible School, Cell Leaders' Bible College, and Cell Leaders' Graded Course. We have a quarterly Cell Leaders' Conference to give them intensive training. At this conference leading ministers from around the world are invited to lecture to our 23,316 cell leaders (1995:20).
Karen Hurston makes reference to a eight week Cell Leader's College in which potential cell leaders receive training on such topics as the responsibilities of a cell leader, and Bible lesson preparation(1995:75). However, when I interviewed district pastor Rev. Song Ho Lee, he specifically told me that there was no such specific training course for cell leaders. This district pastor did affirm that cell leaders often emerge and receive further training from the general educational opportunities in the church. 
The one aspect of specific cell training that both Karen Hurston and this district pastor affirm is the quarterly cell leader's seminar. Normally Dr. Cho speaks at these seminars. However, I learned that well-known outside speakers may also speak at these events.
The section leader also holds a monthly leadership
training meeting in his or her home. Hurston writes, ". .
. there is a monthly leaders' meeting in each section, when
the group leaders of that area meet with their staff pastor in
the home of the section leader for prayer and ministry"
Cell Leader Material
At one time, Pastor Cho personally delivered the lessons to each cell leader. In those days, "carrier teachers" would take Cho's weekly lessons and share them with their groups. However, as the church systematized Cho's lessons in written form, the leaders were able to simply pick up supplemental materials before and after the Wednesday eve. service (1995:214). It appears that now Cho's lessons are available in a five book series.
 Dr. Charles Van Engen suggested to me that the strict control found in the cell ministry at YFCG is Cho's way of exercising control and keeping power. He felt that it was a social/cultural mechanism for controlling the people. I don't think that Van Engen was referring to a conscious, plan on Cho's part, but rather a socially acceptable way of pigeon holing everyone into a position in order to maintain order.
 Nor should it be assumed that Cho is taking Sunday attendance figures when he talks about 700,000 people. Rather, he is referring to people who have tithed at FGYC. At this point, I can only surmise that this listed is not updated to determine whether the person who has tithed is still tithing or at least attending the church.
 I'll never forget the glorious experience of discovering one of the chapels filled with 1000s of people. I wrote, " I feel like the queen of Sheba--blown away. . . . What a feeling of discovery when I walked into the bottom floor chapel. I felt like I was in the early catacombs--people packed between posts, worshipping Jesus while watching close-circuit T.V."
 The six chapels underneath the main sanctuary hold about 9,000 people while the chapels held in other buildings hold about 3,000 for a total of 12,000 additional people.
 I discovered that there were about twenty independent churches that Yoido Full Gospel Church has planted and those churches are not included in the statistics of Yoido Full Gospel Church. However, these twelve continue to be counted. However, Rev. Song Ho Lee told me that there were plans under way (1997) to make these regional chapels independent entities. He told me that David Cho was aging and when he dies these churches will not have the same attraction to belong to Yoido Full Gospel Church.
 Again, this number seems high. Although much of Hurston's information is very helpful, it was not a critical study. She worked for Cho for years and follows the membership statistics provided by the church throughout the book.
 After experiencing the excitement of jammed packed services at 1 p.m., it seemed irrelevant to try to determine if there when more people attended the church. And if there was such a time, any decline might have been the result of lack of room. YFGC lacks space.
 For some reason, YFGC does not call use the term zone pastor and district pastor. They simply call them sub-district leaders. I was also told that YFGC tries to minimize the distinction between district pastor and sub-district pastors.
 I don't know where Hurston got her figures. Perhaps she is counting the branch churches. Hurston also mentions that only five percent meet at the work place as opposed to the home. I will discuss the weaknesses of a cell system based on women's groups at another place.
 I am sure that most of the 700 full-time pastors minister within the cell department. I would say that approximately 4/5s are directly involved in cell ministry. Again, cells are the base but they don't appear to be the base by the organizational chart, thus confirming my conviction that Cho is more church growth oriented than cell oriented.
 If 7.5 men were added to eac men's group (Kannaday 1995:130), only 27,142 men would be cared for in the cell. Does this mean that the cell system truly isn't the base of the church among the male population at YFGC?
The sample order given in Kannaday 1995:151 includes
Praise (10 mintues), Communion with God (33 minutes),
Gratitude (5 minutes), Fellowship (10 minutes), and Closing
 The sample order given in Kannaday 1995:151 includes Praise (10 mintues), Communion with God (33 minutes), Gratitude (5 minutes), Fellowship (10 minutes), and Closing (2 minutes).
The reason that I even mention him here is because he
was the official YFGC spokesman for debriefing foreigner
when I attended YFGC in April, 1997.
 The reason that I even mention him here is because he was the official YFGC spokesman for debriefing foreigner when I attended YFGC in April, 1997.
Pastor Lee could speak a little English but most of
the time he preferred to speak to me through the translator.
 Pastor Lee could speak a little English but most of the time he preferred to speak to me through the translator.
 I remember teaching from Cho's book, Successful Home Cell Groups, more than fifteen years ago. Very little has changed from his system then and now. Perhaps, his cell system lacks creativity and fine tuning.
 I would personally like to know how many of the 400 respondent were women versus men.
Rev. Chang Pyo Lim, who directs the theological
institute in the church confirmed this fact to me. He has
devised a general training program for all membership at
YFGC. It is my understanding that this training takes place
through three day seminars.
 Rev. Chang Pyo Lim, who directs the theological institute in the church confirmed this fact to me. He has devised a general training program for all membership at YFGC. It is my understanding that this training takes place through three day seminars.
"The 16th Annual Church Growth International
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