Is honoring the dead Christian or pagan?

Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, South Korea, is easily the largest single congregation in the world. Recently, however, its 200,000 members have discovered that numbers cannot insulate it from the problems that plague smaller churches, and indeed may aggravate them. The unlikely issue—from a Western perspective—is the honoring of the dead.

Under the leadership of Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho, Central Church was founded in 1958 as a tent church with a roof pieced together from army tent remnants. It joined the Assemblies of God in 1962, and its 10,000-seat sanctuary was completed in 1973. Services were increased to seven on Sunday and two on Wednesday evenings. But growth still outpaced capacity, and last year overflow auditoriums were added to seat another 10,000 or so. Plans are being made to enlarge facilities to seat an additional 20,000.

The unrelenting growth is based on a multiplication of home cell groups led by lay leaders. Under Pastor Cho are 12 ordained ministers, 260 licensed ministers, and finally 15,000 lay leaders. Each lay leader directs a home cell of from 10 to 15 persons, leading them in weekly worship, Bible study, and evangelism.

Central Church is the hub of a multifaceted missions program, a Church Growth International organization to teach its growth principles to others, and a television ministry that has spread from Korea to Japan, and has now entered the U.S. on stations in Los Angeles and New York. It operates a “Prayer Mountain” retreat center that houses 2,000.

Not surprisingly, Central Church influence looms large in the Korean Assemblies of God. Its membership constitutes about one-third of the denomination; the remaining 450 churches make up the other two-thirds. ...

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