Churches in South Korea are not just big. They’re huge.

In and around the capital city of Seoul, for example, traffic patterns are disrupted and entire districts closed when the faithful make their way to one of that city’s 10,000 churches, usually beginning around six o’clock on a Sunday morning. There are half a million at Yoido Full Gospel Church; 40,000 at Young Nak Presbyterian; 15,000 at Sung Rak Baptist—the sheer numbers boggle the mind, and experiencing them firsthand only heightens the wonder and mystery. Not surprisingly, enterprising American Christians have come to regard the tiny peninsula as a veritable Mecca, where pilgrims can gather the secrets of revival and church growth.

And yet, as intriguing a story as Korea’s church-growth phenomenon is, it is but the opening chapter of a story that today includes an economic boom, a government in transition, and a maturing church agonizing over its proper role in a secular state. Said one Christian university president: “When Christians form 25 percent of a society, then they should bear responsibility for that country’s history. In Korea, it’s time.”

So it was that in May, the Christianity Today Institute spent the better part of three weeks in South Korea, asking church leaders and the nation’s politicians questions relating to four general areas: The reasons behind Korea’s astounding church growth (and their potential application in the Western church); the current spiritual health of Korea’s churches; the related question of church unity; and the role of the church in society—specifically, how the church is coping in the current political situation.

Making up the team investigating these ...

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