Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Spirit and Power – A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals

Historical Overview of Pentecostalism in South Korea

Origins and Growth

    • 1880s-1910s: American Presbyterians and Methodists establish the first resident Protestant missions in the mid-1880s. A 1907 revival in Pyongyang involves more than a thousand adults and children, some of whom receive charismatic gifts, fueling nationwide evangelism. By 1910, there are more than 150,000 Protestants in the country (I. Kim 2003: 34, 41; Y. Lee 2001: 75-79).


  • 1920s-1945: In 1932, an American missionary who attended the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles establishes the first pentecostal congregation in Seoul with Huh Heong, a Salvation Army secretary. By 1937, missionaries and Korean preachers establish six pentecostal churches. Restrictions imposed by the Japanese occupation government in the late 1930s force missionaries to leave, and the number of pentecostal churches decreases to four by 1941. Ra Woon Mong’s preaching on Spirit baptism and healing in the 1940s begins the “prayer mountain movement,” also called the “Holy Spirit movement,” which kindles the development of charismatic Protestantism in South Korea (Eim 2003: 240-44; Anderson 2004: 137).



  • 1945-1950s: After Korea’s partition in 1945, Protestantism expands in the South. In 1948, Park Gui Im founds the Suncheon Pentecostal Congregation, and in 1950 Korean ministers organize the Korean Pentecostal Church. After a U.S. Army chaplain invites Assemblies of God (AG) missionaries to Korea, eight churches organize in 1953 as the Korean AG; in 1957 Huh Heong becomes the first Korean chairperson. In 1958, AG pastor Cho Yonggi (later “David”) and Choi Jashil begin a tent church, now known as the Yoido Full Gospel Church (Freston 2001: 64, 69; Eim 2003: 244; Anderson 2004: 137-38).



  • 1960s-1980s: By the early 1980s, the Korean AG is one of the largest Korean Protestant groups, with more than half a million members. By 1988, the Yoido Full Gospel Church becomes the world’s largest congregation, with more than 500,000 members. Gallup surveys in the 1980s and 1990s find that Protestant denominations have a higher percentage of young, urban, educated and female members than other Korean religious groups (Anderson 2004: 137; Hong 2000: 105; Hiatt, Sept. 4, 1988; Hong forthcoming).



  • 1990s to present: By 1991, the Korean AG splits into four denominations. The largest are the Korean AG, including the Yoido Full Gospel Church, and the Jesus AG, led by Cho Yongmok, pastor of the world’s second largest congregation, Grace and Truth. In 1999, the Korean AG becomes the first pentecostal denomination to join the Korean National Council of Churches. Pentecostals make up only 2% of the population in 1993, but many mainline Protestant churches incorporate charismatic theology and worship. By 2000, nine of the 15 largest megachurches in South Korea are charismatic or pentecostal (Eim 2003: 239, 244; Anderson 2004: 138-39; Hong 2000: 101, 104; Freston 2001: 62).



  • According to the Forum’s 2006 pentecostal survey, renewalists–including charismatics and pentecostals–account for approximately one-in-ten of South Korea’s urban population. Approximately four-in-ten Korean Protestants are either pentecostal or charismatic, and roughly one-in-ten Korean Catholics can be classified as charismatic.


Religion and Politics

Christian Nationalism under Japanese Colonization, 1884-1945

    • The Korean monarchy signs a treaty with the U.S. in 1882 that opens the door to American Protestant missionaries. Japan gains control of Korea in 1895 following a war with China. In 1896, Christians help form an “Independence Club” to push for Korean sovereignty. Soon after, one of the club’s co-founders, Syngman Rhee, converts to Methodism (Freston 2001: 63-65; Martin 1990: 139).


  • As Japanese control of Korea strengthens in the early 1900s, Protestant revivals coincide with anti-Japanese nationalist movements. Foreign missionaries promote an apolitical stance to avoid Japanese interference in church affairs. In 1910, Japan formally annexes Korea and the government refuses to employ Protestant intellectuals. Kil Sun Chu, head of the Central Presbyterian Church of Pyongyang and a leader of the 1907 revival, is active in the 1919 independence movement. Though Christians make up only 1% of the population, 16 of the 33 signers of the 1919 Declaration of Independence are Christians. In 1919, nationalist leaders, including seven Christians, form a provisional government in exile with Syngman Rhee as president (T. Lee 2003: 154; Y. Lee 2001: 82; Hong forthcoming; Freston 2001: 63-65).



  • In the mid-1930s, many Protestants resist Shinto worship practices imposed by the Japanese, though all denominations are ultimately forced to comply (Kang 1997: 62-66).


A Protestant President in Divided Korea, 1945-1960

    • After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Syngman Rhee becomes chairman of the U.S.-mandated Representative Democratic Council, in which 35 of 50 Korean officials are Christians. In 1948, Rhee is elected president of the Republic of Korea and 38 of 190 members elected to the Legislative Assembly are Christians (Freston 2001: 64-65).


  • In North Korea, two Presbyterian pastors organize the Christian Social Democratic Party to promote Christian political principles, but the North Korean government soon suppresses it. Many Christians are persecuted and flee to the South (Kang 1997: 156-58).



  • Rhee and his Christian running mate are re-elected during the Korean War (1950-53), with Christian support, and Rhee remains in office until 1960, when protests about allegedly rigged national elections force his resignation. Yun Boseon, a Presbyterian, is elected president under a new parliamentary system, while Jang Myeon, a Catholic, becomes prime minister (Freston 2001: 65; Kang 1997: 92).


Authoritarian Rule, 1961-1987

    • Park Chung Hee leads a military coup in 1961 and remains president until his assassination in 1979. Most evangelical and pentecostal churches cooperate with Park’s government, and Park, though not religious, permits major evangelical revivals during his rule. In 1968, conservative Protestants in the National Assembly organize the pro-government Breakfast Prayer Meeting (Martin 1990: 150-51; T. Lee 2002; Park 2003: 184; Hong forthcoming).


  • A minority of Protestants, joined by Catholics, oppose the authoritarian regime. Protestants in the Korean National Council of Churches develop the minjung (“people”) theology of dissent. Political opposition leaders include Kim Dae Jung, a Catholic, and Kim Young Sam, an elder in a major Presbyterian church (Martin 1990: 151; Freston 2001: 66).



  • General Chun Doo Hwan establishes military rule after an uprising in the city of Kwangju in 1980. A Gallup poll in 1984 shows that only 19% of Protestants approve of “Christian participation in political, economic and social demonstrations.” By the mid 1980s, however, Chun’s harsh policies alienate many evangelicals and pentecostals (Hong forthcoming).



  • In early 1987, a student’s death and President Chun’s decision to retain the restrictive 1972 constitution prompt demonstrations that include evangelicals and pentecostals. In June, Roh Tae Woo, a Buddhist and chairman of the ruling party, announces reforms. In October, Cho Yonggi leads a “Prayer Crusade for the Nation and the People,” attracting more than a million participants. Roh wins the December 1987 election after Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam split the opposition vote (Hong forthcoming; 2006).


Democratic Elections and Kim Young Sam’s Presidency, 1987-1997

    • In 1988, the Yoido Full Gospel Church establishes a daily newspaper, the Kookmin Ilbo or “people’s paper,” which facilitates pentecostal involvement in the public sphere, gaining a circulation of 1 million by 1996 (Hong forthcoming; I. Kim 2003: 170).


  • After his party merges with Roh’s, Kim Young Sam wins the 1992 election with support from evangelical leaders, becoming the first civilian president in more than 30 years. Some National Assembly candidates visit the Yoido Full Gospel Church, and Cho shows his preference for some candidates who are church members. Of the 299 members of Congress in 1992, 90 are Protestants (T. Lee 2006: 338; Hong forthcoming).



  • President Kim invites evangelical and pentecostal pastors to lead prayer services at the president’s house and receives prayers by telephone from Cho Yonggi before important meetings. However, Kim’s political fortunes decline due to corruption charges and the Asian financial crisis. Candidates for the presidential election in 1997 court evangelical support, with particular attention to leaders such as Cho Yonggi. Kim Dae Jung wins the election (Hong forthcoming; Freston 2001: 67; T. Lee 2006: 339).


Pentecostal Activism in National Politics, 2000-present

    • In 2000, 107 of 273 members of Congress are Protestants, including five who attend the Yoido Full Gospel Church (T. Lee 2006: 338; Hong forthcoming).


  • After the 9/11 attacks, the Yoido Full Gospel Church hosts a prayer rally attended by 120,000, including most major political leaders. President Kim Dae Jung sends a video appeal for intercessory prayer (Hong forthcoming).



  • Following anti-U.S. rallies in January 2003, Cho Yonggi organizes a rally in Seoul with 30,000 demonstrators who support the U.S. military presence in Korea. Cho signs a resolution with other leaders, including Kim Young Sam, calling for North Korea to reenter the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and for U.S. forces to stay in South Korea. Members of the Yoido Full Gospel Church call for greater human rights and religious freedom in North Korea, and Cho’s sermons frequently refer to the flight of North Koreans (Marquand, June 11, 2003; J. H. Han, Jan. 17, 2003).



  • For the 2004 national assembly elections, Cho Yonggi supports the creation of the conservative Korean Christian Party, but it fails to attract enough support to field its 23 candidates (Freston 2004b: 68; J. H. J. Han 2005: 14; Yoon, April 9, 2004).



  • In 2005, Cho Yonggi and the mayor of Seoul host the second Jerusalem Summit Asia, a pro-Israel gathering of more than 1,000 Asian Christians (Lefkovits, July 28, 2005).



  • The conservative Christian Council of Korea, which includes several pentecostal denominations, organizes demonstrations in the fall of 2006 demanding sanctions against North Korea and protesting government plans to transfer control of South Korean troops during wartime from the U.S. to Korea (Shin, Oct. 11, 2006; Yonhap English News, Sept. 2, 2006).


Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information