The founder and senior pastor of Seoul's Yoido Full Gospel Church, Rev. Cho Yong-gi, has passed away Tuesday at age 85.
The pastor emeritus died of a brain hemorrhage at the Seoul National University Hospital at 7:13 a.m., the church said. In a statement, the church disclosed that Cho collapsed as a result of cerebral hemorrhage in July last year.
The Yoido Full Gospel Church is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's biggest single religious congregation with about 700,000 members.
Cho started his church in Seoul with only five members in 1958. Today, the church currently has 570,000 worshippers.
The church was once hailed as a symbol of the post-war expansion of Christianity in South Korea before the achievement was smeared by scandal and corruption.
Cho is considered as the pioneer in the major growth of the size of the Protestant Church in the country. He was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis when he was in junior high school and was told by doctors he would not have long to live.
Cho was born to a family with Buddhist belief in 1936 in the southeastern rural district of Ulju. His family relocated to South Korea's southern port city of Busan after the 1950-53 Korean War broke out.
According to Yoido statement, Cho conveyed the "gospel of hope to the Korean people who fell into misery after the Korean War."
"He was instrumental in growing the Korean church, particularly developing Yoido Full Gospel as the world's biggest church," the Associated Press quoted the church as saying.
Cho founded the Church Growth International in 1976 to widen the congregation's reach internationally.
He also founded the Kookmin Ilbo Daily in 1988, a Christian newspaper, and established the Good People, an international non-government organization that advocated environmental protection and human rights in 1999.
Church officials said Yoido Full Gospel Church's headcount has since dropped to around 600,000 and that they cannot confirm whether the congregation is still the world's biggest.
In a statement, the United Christian Churches of Korea (UCCK) honored Cho. "He was a great preacher and spiritual leader, leading the prosperity of the church in Korea and in the world," The Korea Times quoted the statement as saying.