The co-founder of the world’s largest church and the World Assemblies of God Fellowship (WAGF), David (Paul) Yonggi Cho passed away Tuesday morning (Korea time) at the age of 85.
Cho, who had been hospitalized since suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in July 2020, co-founded Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, in 1958, with his mother-in-law, Choi Ja-shil, following a time of intense prayer. The land on which they built the church, referred to as Yoido, meaning “useless” or “you can have it” because locals long-assumed the small island was worthless real estate, is now the Wall Street of Seoul. At its height (2007), the church had more than 800,000 members. Currently the church lists a membership of about 600,000.
According to the New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Cho was raised a Buddhist, but rejected his religion as he was dying of tuberculosis and converted to Christianity. He recovered from his illness, and then Jesus appeared to him in the middle of the night, called him to preach, and filled him with the Holy Spirit.
In 1966, Cho was elected general superintendent of the Korean Assemblies of God. And in addition to co-founding the WAGF with AG (USA) missions director J. Phillip Hogan, Cho became chairman of the WAGF, serving with distinction from 1992-2000. In 2008, he stepped down from leadership of Yoido Full Gospel Church, being named pastor emeritus.
AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis says, “Pastor Cho made an impact throughout the world — not only as pastor of the largest church in history and longtime chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship but as a Pentecostal leader. He was truly a man of the Spirit, depending wholeheartedly on God and inspiring millions to devote themselves to prayer.”
Randy Hurst, special consultant to Mundis, recalls Cho with great warmth. Cho was a close family friend as Hurst’s father, Wesley — then the Asia Pacific regional director for AGWM — worked closely with Cho in the early years of the church’s history.
“He was such a down-to-earth, self-effacing man,” Randy Hurst says. “He was supremely confident of what could be done with God’s direction and empowerment. But was always genuinely humble and dependent on the Lord.”
Hurst notes that although many see leaders such as Cho as spiritual giants, at least in the case of Cho, he faced life and spiritual questions with practicality.
“One time I was playing golf with him in Korea,” Hurst recalls, laughing a bit at the memory, “and I asked him about prayer, as I knew he went to the church’s prayer mountain on Saturdays and prayed for eight hours. I told him honestly that I had never prayed for that long at one time — how did he do it? He told me, ‘Very often I go to sleep — sleep is as important as prayer.’”
Hurst recalls another time when he asked Cho about people feeling guilty about going to doctors or taking medication. Cho’s response was refreshingly simple. “You know, I used to have a real problem with headaches. I would pray for a long time for God to heal the headaches. Now I take aspirin. I save prayer for more important things.”
And then, in a more serious reflection, Hurst says there were people who misapplied Cho’s strong teaching concerning faith.
“I told him once about how some American preachers were misusing his teaching concerning the power of confession. He told me, ‘It is not our words that have power, it is only God’s Word. The power is only when we are confessing what His Spirit is saying. I wait on the Lord until I receive a word from Him — then we have power to confess.’”
Jeff Hartensveld, the current AGWM Asia Pacific regional director, also has great respect for Cho.
“He was considered by many the father of church growth, founding Church Growth International , a ministry he led for many years, that inspired thousands upon thousands of pastors around the globe to want to grow their church,” Hartensveld states. “He was also a man of great faith with a passion for missions. His legacy will live on through church members, ministries, and missionaries from Yoido Full Gospel Church that are ministering around the world.”
Kim Seong-Hye, Cho’s wife of 56 years, preceded him in death in February. The couple is survived by three sons: Cho Hee-Jun, Cho Min-Je, and Cho Seung-Je. Funeral services for Cho will be held on Saturday (Korea time) in the grand hall of Yoido Full Gospel Church.