South Korean Christians Increasingly Disillusioned with Church

empty church
An increasing number of South Korean Christians are becoming disillusioned with organised religion and are leaving their churches, a recently published report says.

Greed, unthinking obedience, and hypocrisy among church leaders in recent years has led to a new phenomenon of ‘unchurched Christians’, the report says, who believe in the religion but avoid joining a congregation.

In a country famous for its zealous subway preachers and the largest church congregation in the world, the idea that you can be spiritual without being religious is novel.

From the Chosun Ilbo:

‘I don’t go to church, but I’m still a Christian’

Forty-five-year-old Mr. Park used to be called by the nickname, ‘The Missionary’. Park had attended church ever since he was a child and did not let a drop of alcohol pass his lips, even when he was studying abroad. After a lifetime of regularly attending church, Park saw that same church consumed by a financial scandal. ‘They fought over transfer of power, embezzled funds, and covered up scandalous behavior. I just didn’t want to be a member of such a church.’ In his mid-thirties, after trying out a few other churches, Park decided to stop attending. And yet Park says, ‘I am still a Christian.’

The dictionary definition of Protestants (Note: Korean tends to use the terms ‘Protestants’ or ‘Catholics’ rather than the general term ‘Christians’) states, ‘someone who believes in Protestantism’, the term typically implies that someone has faith in the religion and regularly attends church.

The number of people who have attended church for a long time but who have stopped attending is rising. These individuals are called ‘Canaan Congregants’. The term plays off the name for the land promised to the Hebrews in the Old Testament and the term ‘I do not attend’ [안 나가]. In the West, there is increasing study into the phenomenon of ‘believing without belonging’ and ‘unchurched Christians’. However, there is still a shortage of data about the phenomenon in Korea.

Churches offer no hope, my faith hit a wall

Why have Canaan Congregants been leaving their churches? The Center for the Study of Ministry and Society recently published a report based on extensive interviews with Congregants, finding that while the reasons vary widely, the primary issue was disappointment with the behavior of the pastor and the congregation. ‘I didn’t like the way the congregation just did the same thing over and over again, getting swept up in emotion and sobbing out loud,’ said one thirty-year-old office-worker. Another respondent said, ‘it was hard to endure the sermons filled with allegories that didn’t make any sense in our lives.’ Other interview subjects criticised the naked pursuit of material benefits within the church. ‘If you talk about how it is better for the church to make more money, to have a bigger building and fancy facilities, then what is the difference between a church and a business?’ said one fifty-year-old doctor. There was also strong resistance to the forceful messages and discipline demanded by their church, ‘I believe in God, but why do Protestants have to say that every other religion is wrong?’

The Typical ‘Canaan Congregant’

43.2% have attended church for between five and fifteen years
52.6% have not attended church for at least the past ten years
30.3% left their church because they wanted a less rigid religious experience
53.3% would like to return to a church at some point in the future
Source: Survey of 316 ‘Canaan Congregants’ by the Center for the Study of Ministry and Society

‘Without reform, more will leave the church’

So then can Canaan Congregants still be called Christians? According to Kwan Oh-seong of the Global Diaconia Center, “If you emphasise the communal aspect of Christianity, then you could say that these Congregants aren’t Protestants, but if you emphasise personal expressions of faith, then they are still Protestants…the more fundamental issue that should be addressed here is how this trend highlights distrust and dissatisfaction with churches.’ Cho Sang-don, director of the Center for the Study of Ministry and Society, said “it saddens me to see the similarity between the situation here and shrinking churches in the West.”

Comments from Daum:


A few years ago I had to go to the hospital, (I should add that I am not religious), where I stayed in a room with three other patients, one of whom was Christian. Every day, there were multiple teams of people who would pray loudly and sing hymns. One day someone who looked like a priest came over to me and began began crying loudly and saying that I should pray.. I was taken aback and just stared back at him as he started saying to me, “come brother, let us pray together..then you will get better soon and go to heaven”. I wanted to throw an IV bottle right into his flapping with these rude Protestants is like being in Hell


Korean Christians are no longer an irritation, now they have become a social evil. What other religion does so much harm, works so hard to preserve its power, disgraces God, and yet acts so self-righteous? They are the worst of the worst groups in Korea.


Even in America they say that hundreds of churches are closing every year, nothing like the situation here in Korea. But Korean churches aren’t flourishing because of strong religious feeling, it’s because of the tithes. In the West, they don’t pay tithes. But here in Korea, the Protestants just about force you to hand over your money! That’s how they grow their churches. As long as there is tithing, Korean Protestants will always be corrupt.


That’s the reality, they see religion as just one more business ke ke ke


ㅆhe more developed your country is, the fewer citizens attend church…


I don’t know why priests are so eager to identify with the left-wing politicians and North Korea..then at the same time they work to make sure that not only their families but their cousins and their cousins cousins get rich off the church..what a crazy world of nepotism..then they try to make sure that a family member takes their place when they retire..then they try to tell everyone that it was the will of God…ke ke ke protestant nuts

church protest
19대 대통령 안철수:

People turn to religion to find peace, but when I read the news coming out every day about rape, abuse, assault, and molestation that goes on inside of religions I don’t see how any of them can offer peace. Just reading the articles makes my blood pressure rise…


You will only find tithing at Korean churches.. you will also only find Protestant perverts in Korea.. tithing, it’s just so the church can make money off you


I’m not sure if they are following Jesus and God or following the church and their priest…


Proselytizing violates freedom of religion. Catholics realised this a long time ago and refrain from proselytizing to anyone who objects


A religion that ignores the interests of the people, exploits human rights, indulges in corruption, praises and feeds off of the bastard politicians of the New Frontier Party, a fundamentally immoral religion, cannot survive

삭제된 글이 아닙니다:

Neither Jesus nor Moses ever really existed. There is no evidence of Jesus in Judaism or in the records of the Romans from 0 A.D. to 40 A.D. Protestants in the year 100 A.D. started looking around for ways to reinforce their religion, taking the image of Dionysus nailed to a cross from Greek mythology and replacing it with Jesus. They copied the principles of Zoroastrianism from 5th century B.C. Babylon (a virgin birth, the appearance at that time of a star, the appearance of wise men at the birth, the rebirth), took Saturnalia from Roman religion, Amen-ra from Egyptian religion, then stole a few bits from Buddhism (flowing to Europe along the road Alexander the Great carved into India)


Priests who have forgotten their purpose, congregations that blindly follow their pastors, congregations that spend all their time caring for the physical appearance of their church building, they’ve all forgotten the needs of the world and its standards of decency


Religion is the opium of the masses. The Communists weren’t wrong on that point…The situation is such that followers of religion will sell their own soul for the right price…don’t believe in a religion, instead carry your own right faith and belief.

neon church
Comments from Twitter:


‘Believing without belonging’ I know exactly how they feel


Believing without belonging. So there are many other Christians who also feel lost like me..


The days of an omnipotent, untouchable clergy are drawing to a close. A personal, loving, faith is the future.


An uneven faith that borrows from pagan superstition, pastors who are becoming more secular, churches that have lost all connection with the salt of the earth, it all makes it inevitable that people will leave the church

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