After a period of prosperity and rapid expansion, churches in South Korea are undergoing a period of rethinking about their mission in an economically depressed nation.
South Korea and other East Asian countries are is deep in the throes of economic depression, as shown by growing ranks of unemployment and currency devaluation. During the nation’s boom times in the 1970s and 80s, South Korea’s churches grew tremendously, with the most notable example being the world’s largest congregation, the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul with 700,000 members.
Christianity Today (Nov. 16) magazine reports that where evangelism and a “prosperity gospel” were often key themes in the churches, especially in the evangelical and charismatic congregations during this time, preaching on repentance and against materialism is now commonplace.
There is also renewed attention to the plight of the poor and forgotten — once important themes in most Korean churches — especially as many church members are now among the unemployed. Before the depression, there appeared to be a lull in church attendance In 1994, a government statistical report posted a four percent decline in church attendance. Writer Bo Rin Ro writes that such a decline is continuing, with pastors reporting drops in giving and expansion plans.
The strong involvement of churches in sending missionaries around the world has also been curtailed. Meanwhile, a report in the Associated Press (Nov. 2), in contrast to Ro’s claim of decline of church attendance, find the number of people attending religious services is climbing again, not only among Christians but also among Buddhists and other faiths.