South Korean Pastor David Yongi Cho, who used to have the largest church and congregation in the world has died at the age of 85.
Yongi Cho died on Tuesday.
With his mother-in-law Choi Ja-shil, he was a cofounder of the Yoido Full Gospel Church (Assemblies of God), the world’s largest congregation, with a claimed membership of 830,000 as of 2007.
Cho was born on February 14, 1936, in Ulju-gun, now part of Ulsan metropolitan city. The son of Cho Doo-chun and Kim Bok-sun, Cho was the eldest of five brothers and four sisters. He graduated from middle school with honours.
Because his father’s sock and glove business went bankrupt, he could not afford high school or university tuition. Subsequently, he enrolled in an inexpensive technical high school to learn a trade. At the same time, he began frequenting an American army base near his school, and learned English from soldiers whom he befriended.
He mastered English quickly, and became an interpreter for the commander of the army base, and also for the principal of his school.
Raised initially as a Buddhist, Cho converted to Christianity at the age of 17, after a beautiful girl visited him telling him about Jesus Christ, before he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Sensing God calling him to the ministry, Cho began working as an interpreter for the American evangelist Ken Tize. In 1956, he received a scholarship to study theology at Full Gospel Bible College in Seoul. While there, he met Choi Ja-shil, who became his mother-in-law and a close ministerial associate. He graduated in March 1958.
Cho had spent more than 44 years emphasizing the importance of cell group ministry, which he believed was the key to church growth, as well as team ministry.
In November 1976, Cho founded Church Growth International, an organization dedicated to teaching the principles of evangelism and church growth to pastors all over the world. In January 1986, he led the way in establishing the Elim Welfare Town, a facility for the elderly, the young, the homeless, and the unemployed. The latter would be given training and a choice of four occupations.
In 1988, he founded newspaper company, Kukmin Ilbo. He was Chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship from 1992 to 2000 and did not pursue another term, and has served as Chairman of the Korean Christian Leaders Association since November 1998. He had also served as Chairman of the Good People charity organization since February 1999.
In 2008, Cho retired, with Young Hoon Lee succeeding him as senior pastor.