Mega church founder Oak dead

  • Published : Sept 2, 2010 - 16:04
  • Updated : Sept 2, 2010 - 16:04

The Rev. Oak Han-heum, who founded the SaRang Community Church, one of several mega churches in Korea, passed away Thursday morning after two years battling lung cancer. He was 72.

The SaRang Church said he had been treated at the intensive care unit at Seoul National University Hospital since Aug. 8.

Oak became an ordained minister in 1972 and founded the SaRang Church in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, in 1978.

The church has grown exponentially over the last 32 years and the number of registered church members now reaches 80,000. More than 40,000 members are estimated to attend Sunday services regularly.

Strongly believing that all lay Christian believers can be like priests, Oak gained wide respect from Protestants for his enthusiasm in discipleship training. His book “Awaken the Layman,” published in 1984, sparked discipleship training in Korean churches, which were accustomed to organization-based missionaries only.
This undated file photo shows Rev. Oak Han-heum preaching at the SaRang Community Church in southern Seoul. (The SaRang Community Church)

Oak surprised the religious community in 2003 by not passing on his position to his children, a practice widespread among mega churches in Korea.

Five years prior to his scheduled retirement, Oak designated pastor Oh Jung-hyun, then pastor of Namgajoo Sarang Church in the U.S., as a chief reverend of the SaRang Community Church in August 2003. He remained pastor emeritus at the church.

However, in recent years Oak faced criticism for plans to build a massive new church building.

Although the church claims it needs more space to accommodate its growing congregation and relieve parking problems, reformist Christians have vehemently opposed the plan, saying it will harm smaller churches.

Oak had supported the 210 billion won ($178 million) construction project, saying in a video clip message to church members during the Nov. 15 service that “the growth of the church is God’s will.”

SaRang Community Church spokesperson Yoon Jang-han told The Korea Herald the church will go ahead with its original plan to build the new chapel.

“As we have some time until the completion of the building in autumn 2012, we will keep having talks with smaller churches to seek ways to co-exist,” Yoon said.

By Kim Yoon-mi (