Lecture Unit 2: Yongii Cho, Successful Home Cell Groups
The world’s largest church is the Yoido Full Gospel Church of Seoul, Korea, with over 700,000 members. As the first and the largest cell church, it is the flagship example of the species and the “first wave” of cell church innovation, the church that started it all. And Yongii Cho’s best known book, Successful Home Cell Groups (Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1981), is the place to begin an acquaintance with Yoido.
Dr. Cho has long used a western name; first “Paul,” then “David.” You will find books published under both names. Yongii, his actual Korean first name, when pronounced rhymes with “long-gee” with a hard “g” as in “go.” The church is named for the island in the middle of the Han River on which it is located and is pronounced “Yoh-EE-doh” with the first and last syllables rhyming with “oh.” While many Western Christians have heard of the world’s largest church, few know its name.
The Yoido Full Gospel Church of
Seoul, Korea, provides the fundamental pattern for all cell churches.
Dr. Cho says: “Our cell group system is a net for our Christians to cast.
Instead of a pastor fishing for one fish at a time, organized believers form
nets to gather hundreds and thousands of fish. A pastor should never try to
fish with a single rod but should organize believers into the ‘nets’ of a cell
A cell church is “a church that has placed evangelistic small groups at the
core of its ministry;” the primary purpose and focus of the cell groups is
evangelism. We will use
two units to examine this gigantic church; next week will focus on what
Westerners saw and adopted because it was different than the western way of
doing church. This week will emphasize
the big picture and some of the frequently details missed in the early Western
understandings of Yoido.
Yoido Church began in the slums of Korea in 1958 in a time of great poverty, suffering and upheaval. The old ways had failed miserably to meet the needs of people, and they were ready for good news. The Yoido Full Gospel Church was founded on May 15, 1958, by a middle-aged woman. Jashil Choi had found Christ after she and her three daughters were abandoned by her husband. Mrs. Choi attended the two-year Assemblies of God sponsored Full Gospel Bible Institute where she met and encouraged another student by the name of Yongii Cho. Mrs. Choi set up a tent on ten thousand square feet of land given to her in the poor section of Bulkwangdong and asked Yonggi Cho to be the pastor while she would serve as his assistant. John Hurston, an Assembly of God missionary, arrived later that summer and began to conduct four daily services in week-long tent crusades in six Korean cities; Yongii Cho served as his interpreter. These three faithful Christians are the instruments God used to build the world’s largest church.
By 1961 the church in the slums had grown to 600 members and relocated to Sodaemon, occupying a facility built for them by the Assemblies of God. The cell church system was born due to the physical collapse in 1964 of Pastor Yongii Cho, age 28, due to overwork functioning as the traditional pastor of a church of 2400 members (1-12, 39-42). Heart palpitations caused him to faint at the slightest effort; at first he was unable to even preach from a chair.
In the forced time of Sabbath that followed his collapse, Cho began a practice of praying for hours each day; he was able to do little else for over a year due to complete exhaustion (15). During this time of reflection he wrote two books which became best sellers in Korea on the topics of divine healing and communion with the Holy Spirit. Jashil Choi and missionary John Hurston assumed his work in the church as well as their own. As a result of months of prayer and study of the scriptures, he came to a realization that would change his life: he “needed to delegate responsibility in the church” (15). Three statements from God came to him in prayer that day:
“Let my people go and grow.”
“Let my people go from the kingdom of Yongii Cho, but let them grow.”
“Help them to stand on their own feet. Help them to carry out ministry” (16).
With these words, Cho moved from a concept of ministry which encouraged dependence on the pastor to a concept where God’s people, all of God’s people, were to be equipped to do God’s work, from house to house as well as in the temple, just as in the New Testament book of Acts. Cho’s leaders needed to move from dependency upon the pastor to their own ministry as a healthy core group. Note that this is not just a shift from the pastor meeting the needs of dependent lay members to one of church leaders operating programs that meet the needs of dependent lay members; ministry moves from the temple to house to house, from the ministry by the pastor to all of the laity, and from the needs of dependant church members to the needs of lost people.
Cho found that his male leaders
were unwilling and “too busy” to follow his vision, even though they agreed
that it was based on Scripture. Women,
however, who were disrespected in Korean culture, had the time and were willing
to obey God; they were organized by Cho’s female co-founder, Jashil Choi (29)
who is at the center of many of the turning points of this church.
As problems arose, they were resolved by fixing rules which managed the small group experience; submission to standardized rules is stressed in these churches rather than the continuous innovation and experimentation typical of the Emergent Church movement. The diffusion of innovations indicates that 16% of persons love change and innovation while 84% prefer a stable, smoothly running familiarity. At Yoido, the pragmatic majority obediently practice the cell system rules with great productivity; Cho notes that his Sunday worship is also “very structured, very traditional (49).” If all of the laity are to be in ministry, eventually innovation must yield to faithful obedience to a system of rules if the majority of people are to be able to practice disciple making. Yoido Church focuses upon the consistent implementation of the Great Commission, not on innovation. Apart from it’s focus on cells and evangelism and adaptations forced upon it by size, Yoido is fundamentally a traditional church.
The home groups began to add to the
converts while Cho focused on preaching and prayer. After the purchase of
property on the newly developed Yoido Island in 1973, relocation allowed the
counting of members revealing that the church had grown in nine years of cell
practice from 2400 to 18,000 members. Eight thousand remained behind at
Sodaemon as a new church, while 10,000 moved to the new location (43). The
church at Sodaemon eventually transitioned to a more traditional system under
their pastor’s leadership; as the cells lost their focus on evangelism, the
church dwindled to less than two thousand (114). The cell system at the new church at Yoido
yielded 3000 new members the first year and soon began to yield as many as 3000
conversions per month (44).
Page references to this book are given in parentheses within the text of this article.
The history and pattern of Yoido Church is explored in more detail on pp. 11-29 in Chapter Two: Discipleship Systems, online at www.disciplewalk.com/resources. Footnotes to sources for this lecture will be found there.
Karen Hurston, Growing the World’s Largest Church (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1994), 107, 164.
 Joel Comiskey, quoted by Steve Cordle, Church In Many Houses: Reaching Your Community Through Cell-Based Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 22.
Brian D. McLaren, The Church on the Other Side (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 11‑26.
A diffusion of innovations understanding of cultures questions the value and necessity of change in the church. Only 16% of persons inside or outside the church prefer change. The continuous, never ending institutional innovation proposed by the emergent church school of thought is contraindicated to reach the 84% of lost people who have little interest in change for the sake of change.
NOTE (my response)
The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.