Growth and Stagnation of the Korean Church


Choi, Dongkyu

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The purpose of this thesis is not only to analyze and evaluate 130 years of the Korean church’s growth, from when the Protestant gospel first reached Korean soil to the first 10 years of the 21st century, but also to address problems the Korean church currently faces and to seek to suggest challenges for its future growth. I divided and analyzed the history of the Korean church in the perspective of its growth to four periods: the first growth period, the tribulation period, the second growth period, and the stagnation period. The first growth period refers to the period from 1884, when Allen stepped on Korean soil as the first Protestant missionary, to 1910, when Japan forcibly annexed Korea. From a quantitative perspective, this period only experienced growth. Many factors, such as unstable sociopolitical environment, nationalistic tendencies of the church, the church’s role in facilitating new culture, the Korean people’s passion for the Gospel and the Word, and voluntary personal evangelism, were crucial in the growth of this period. Furthermore, the revival movement of the 1900s is evaluated to be essential to the growth of this period. During the tribulation period from the 1910s to the 1950s, the Korean church had to focus on reconstructing the its church communities that were damaged from hardships such as Japanese oppression, political unrest after liberation, and the tragedy of the Korean War. Although the Korean church experienced a considerable amount of growth during this period, it not only suffered from external factors, such as oppression and war, but also shrank internally in its faith and evangelistic activities. The Korean church was not able to focus normally on church growth because its priority was to gather its scattered members and rebuild its church organization after liberation. In addition, the Korean War that lasted three years from 1950 greatly damaged the Korean church in its human and material resources, and destroyed all church organizations in North Korea. Therefore, the Korean church had no choice but to set its priority on rebuilding damaged church buildings and restoring the church. The Korean church experiences a growth similar to that of the first growth period during the second growth period, from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sociopolitical factors involved in this rapid quantitative growth of the Korean church during this period are social structural insecurity from a dictatorial government, the Korean-style modernization process that focused on economic development, and adjusted response to urbanization. However, internal factors, such as large-scale evangelistic campaigns, the members’ passion for the Gospel and the Word, and passionate prayer, were more essential in the church’s growth. Despite its enormous quantitative growth, the Korean church also exposes many side effects, such as its quantity-oriented development and egoistic individualism, created by the negative values of modernism. The Korean church has faced stagnation since the 1990s. The Korean church has been unable to properly respond to changes in the missional field; ensnared by past paradigms, the Korean church has been unable to experience the explosive growth of the past. The Korean church’s deviation from being the true church has become an internal pathological phenomena that has been a central factor in its stagnation. The cause of the Korean church’s stagnation lies not in its lack of spiritual passion but in its religious consumerism combined with ethical corruption that has led the society to distrust the church. What the Korean church needs more than anything for it to over come this challenge and continue growing is proper theological reflection. The Korean church today must support and orient itself towards the growth of the true church. Staying true to God’s will and purpose, the Korean church will seek not the egoistic growth of local churches but the growth of God’s kingdom. The three factors the Korean church needs for health church growth are balance between the Gospel and culture, balance between quantitative and qualitative growth, and balance between social change and the spiritual change of individuals.


I. Introduction
 II. Outlining the Korean Church Growth: a Quantitative Analysis
  1. From the Early Days to the 1990s
  2. Since the 1990s
 III. Growth and Stagnation of the Korean Church: a Qualitative Analysis
  1. The First Growth Period: from 1884 to 1910
  2. The Tribulation Period: From the 1910s to the 1950s
  3. The Second Growing Period: from the 1960s to the 1980s
  4. The Stagnation Period: Since the 1990s
 IV. Conclusion


  • Choi, Dongkyu Full-time lecturer of Seoul Theological University


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