Growing to multiply: Anabaptism in South Korea

Deborah Wiens and Deborah Froese
May 10, 2013
Mennonite Church Canada
Congregation of Jesus Heart Church
Winnipeg, Manitoba

In South Korea where mega churches are the norm, Jesus Village Church (JVC) of Chuncheon is taking a different approach.

JVC believes that relationships are the key to ministry and that good relationships bloom within the small church model. When JVC grew too large to maintain that model, it chose to become two. On March 10, 2013, the congregation blessed and bid farewell to five families who left to form a new congregation, Jesus Heart Church (JHC).

“Right from the beginning, [the] church had a vision to grow by ‘multiplying’,” says long-time church member Kyong-Jung Kim, who now shares leadership at JHC.

Formed in 1996, JVC was the culmination of three years of study and discussion directed toward establishing a “New Testament” house church that emphasized neighbourly community and practical discipleship. Deepening their understanding of Anabaptism through Mennonite Church Canada’s partner in South Korea, the Korea Anabaptist Center, enhanced that vision.

Church founders envisioned joint, unsalaried pastors to encourage servant leadership, and to allow financial resources, however small, to support local and global community needs. They also imagined a church that could “be church” anywhere.

“Church is not the building but is the body of Jesus Christ,” says Il-Hwan Kim, a current JVC member.

As JVC grew, the small house church atmosphere it had cultivated began to fade. A change became imminent. But determining what to do and how to go about it took longer than expected as members pondered how their closely-knit congregation could stay together emotionally and spiritually if they separated.

“The Church-as-Body image runs deep within this church, making it a very valid question,” says Kyong-Jung Kim “To make a clean break would be like to losing a limb. Therefore it really is important to think of this as multiplication, even though it’s being done through an initial division.”

Still, discussion and prayer about a potential new cell church continued for over a year until at last, JHC was born.

Once every three months and on special occasions, JVC and JHC plan to come together as a whole. Financially, they also plan to support each other as needed. As growth continues, members agree that more cell churches should emerge.

When asked what the vision is for all of JVC’s future cell churches, Il-Hwan Kim replies: “Every [member] should do something for the church according to their gifts…our vision is for all members to be disciples to follow Jesus Christ. And that’s something every Christian should strive for, no matter what sort of church they call home.”

With JVC’s blessing, another family has also left to start a house church in the neighbouring city of Hwacheon.