Seoul Searching:

Palm Sunday Service at the World’s Largest Church

Yoido
Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul holds the Guinness World Record title for “World’s Largest Church.”

My husband’s first time writing for this blog is inspired by our recent experience on Palm Sunday. Michal will be writing more often to shed insight on our life in Seoul from his perspective.  

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My wife and I have been churchgoers since before we met. In fact, we first met on a Catholic church retreat in East Lansing, Mich.

SJSP
Left: (2006) Our small group on a church retreat when we first met. Right: (2011) We returned to St. John Student Parish in East Lansing, Mich. for our wedding.

I had heard about Korea being a fervently Christian nation despite only 25 percent of the population being Christian and also heard about its mega churches, one of which, Yoido Full Gospel Church, is the largest church in the world with over 800K attending members. So we decided to go an check it out last Sunday.

We got to Yoido-do, an island on the Han River in Seoul, and found parking in a massive lot nearby the park. The church was very well organized and efficient. We quickly found a table for welcoming foreigners and were ushered to our seats inside. The church is a massive egg-shaped stadium. There is a 100-person choir, full orchestra and, luckily for us, a translator who simultaneously fed us the English version of the song lyrics and sermon through earpieces we were wore. The music was incredibly well sung, and it was really nice to hear many familiar hymns sung in Korean.

Yoido Choir
We sat in the upper balcony in a section designated for foreigners/internationals. This is a view of the choir in the lower section of the church after the 11 a.m. Sunday service.

The sermon was moving as well; I really appreciated how culturally authentic it felt as the pastor prayed for the safety of South Korea, that there may be protection from the nuclear weapons of the North. He also made historical references about the Japanese colonization and persecution of Christians.

The sermon related the story of Passover and sacrificial lamb the pastor drew on a comparison that was original to me, just as the Israelites ate a roasted Lamb to gain the strength to start their journey to Israel so we need to eat for the Lord’s work. The food for the Lord’s work is the word of God the Bible, but in order to digest it, that needs to be roasted as well – roasted in the fire of the Spirit and read prayerfully with the Lord in your heart.

The numbers of this church are just staggering.

In all, we sang and prayed about 20 times during the service; it lasted about an hour and a half, maybe shorter. The church seated around 32K with every seat filled. We went to a foreigners’ reception after the service and learned more about the church’s establishment. There are seven services a day with 32K people each and more services every day of the week.

It was also quite easy to perceive that this church was politically influential. At the end of the service, the pastor introduced four members of the Korean National Assembly who attended in the front rows. The church location itself is directly next to the National Assembly, the most powerful organ of the Korean government. With both of these factors, it is undeniable that Christianity has a strong influence on Korean politics.

For a service led in a language I did not understand in a foreign country, the experience felt very familiar.

I think that is one of the beautiful things about religion and Christianity: While we all come from different backgrounds, many of us profess that in the center of our lives there is one thing that is undeniably more important than anything else – our love for Jesus and therefore a love and care for all his creation.

The hymns, though unintelligible until translated, could be heard sung anywhere in America. The sermon, while full of Korean history and unique metaphors, had the core message of seeking the spirit while reading the word of God.

Attending such a massive church was an awe-inspiring experience that I think is necessary for those living or visiting Seoul. I don’t think I will become a regular member because there are excellent churches closer to my home in Hannam-dong, but from what I can tell, becoming a regular would be a fulfilling experience.

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Read more about Michal here.

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