12/12/2007 - The coming presidential election in South Korea on Dec. 19 is drawing attention to the growing presence of Christianity in a country that as recently as 1960 had fewer than a million Christians. The odds-on favorite in the race, Lee Myung-bak of the conservative Grand National Party, is a leader in one of South Korea's largest churches, Somang Presbyterian Church. Lee, a former mayor of Seoul who once ran one of the country's largest construction companies, is strongly supported by South Korea's significant Protestant population.
By South Korean standards, Somang Presbyterian is not unusually large. South Korea, in fact, is home to 15 megachurches with an adult attendance of more than 10,000 people on a given Sunday. This includes the largest church in the world, the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which reports a membership of upwards of 800,000 and has an adult attendance of more than 230,000 on a given Sunday.
Approximately 30% of South Korea's population now identifies as Christian, according to the 2005 national census. The growth in South Korean Christianity has been fueled at least in part by the rapid spread of pentecostal varieties of Protestantism.
These pentecostal groups now represent approximately four-in-ten among the 25% of South Koreans in urban areas who self-identify as Protestant, according to a recent Pew Forum survey, Spirit and Power. The rapid growth in the number of Christian adherents in South Korea in the past 40 years has come largely at the expense of those who do not identify with any religion, whose percentage of the population decreased from 57% in 1985 to 47% in 2005. The number of South Koreans who identify themselves as Buddhist increased only slightly from approximately 20% in 1985 to 23% in 2005.
Read the full report Presidential Election in South Korea Highlights Influence of Christian Community on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.