Cho had been hospitalized since a collapse in June 2020 and died in Seoul from a brain hemorrhage. He was 85 years old.
Cho founded Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1958, which has grown to become one of the largest churches in the world with more than 480,000 attendees per week, according to Leadership Network, an international organization of church leaders.
Yoido has more than 500 churches across South Korea and has sent thousands of missionaries to different countries over the years, according to the church’s press release. Cho himself has participated in religious rallies and movements in 71 countries, the statement said.
Born in 1936, Cho lived through the Korean War, during which he served as an interpreter between his school principal and the US military commander, the church said in its statement.
Cho’s recovery prompted him to enroll in Full Gospel Theological Seminary, and he founded Yoido Church after graduating. The church began when only five members gathered in a tent in Seoul, according to the church’s website.
South Korea has one of the most vibrant Christian cultures – especially Protestant – in the world, with conversion gaining momentum between the mid to late 20th century.
Minority Christian sects, as well as mega-churches, flourished in the years following the end of the Korean War – and Yoido has become perhaps Korea’s best-known representative, numbering over 700 000 members in 1993, according to the press release.
Those numbers continued to skyrocket as the church went international, expanding to include a giant mountainside retreat in South Korea’s Gyeonggi province and a Christian university founded by Cho in California. The church has also created an international branch, led by Cho, to connect with pastors and church leaders from 25 other countries, according to its website.
In South Korea, Cho has become an extremely influential figure; he founded a Christian daily, created a humanitarian NGO and wrote several books, the church statement said.
But he was also frequently the subject of controversy and scandals. In 2014, he was convicted of embezzling $ 14 million in church donations to buy shares owned by his son, at four times their market value, according to Reuters.
Cho’s wife died in February of this year. The couple leave behind three sons.