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The Jesus movement was a movement in Christianity beginning on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spreading primarily through North America and Europe, before dying out by the early 1980s. It was the major Christian element within the hippie counterculture, or, conversely, the major hippie element within some strands of Protestantism. Members of the movement were called Jesus people, or Jesus freaks.

The Jesus movement left a legacy of various denomination and other Christian organizations, and had an impact on both the development of the contemporary Christian right and the Christian left. Jesus music, which grew out of the movement, greatly influenced contemporary Christian music, helping to create various musical subgenres such as Christian rock and Christian metal.


The terms Jesus movement and Jesus people were coined by Duane Pederson in his writings for the Hollywood Free Paper. The term Jesus freak was originally a pejorative label imposed on the group by non-Christian hippies, but members of the Jesus movement reclaimed the phrase as a positive self-identifier.

Though still a part of the broader hippie movement, the Jesus movement was partly a reaction against the counterculture from which it originated. Some people became disenchanted with the status quo and became hippies. Later, some of these people became disenchanted with the hippie lifestyle and became Jesus people.Larry Eskridge, "Jesus People" in Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, David B. Barrett, Encyclopedia of Christianity "The beginnings of the Jesus People movement can be traced to the San Francisco Bay area, where in 1965 a group of young bohemian converts began to gather within John MacDonald's First Baptist Church in Mill Valley, California."

The Jesus movement kept many of the mannerisms and styles of the hippies, but changed the cultural content to reflect their newfound religion. For example, the Jesus people gave hippie slang a Christian spin: "free love", instead of designating a rejection of traditional morality regarding sex, became the free agape love of God and people; phrases like "One Way" replaced the focus on the individual with a focus on God; and "Just Drop Jesus" or being "high on Jesus" replaced "dropping" acid. It also became quite common to speak of "Truckin' with Jesus" in place of the biblical term "Walking with the Lord." When inquiring of someone's well-being, it would often be said, "Oh, he's Truckin'" meaning that he is doing really well.

Beliefs and practices

The Jesus movement was restorationist in theology, seeking to return to the original life of the early Christians. As a result, Jesus people often viewed churches, especially those in the United States, as apostate, and took a decidedly counter cultural political stance in general. The theology of the Jesus movement also called for a return to simple living and asceticism in some cases. The Jesus people had a strong belief in miracles, signs and wonders, faith, healing, prayer, The Bible, and powerful works of the Holy Spirit. For example, a miracle-filled revival at Asbury College in 1970 grabbed the attention of the secular news media and became known nation-wide.

The movement tended towards strong evangelism and millennialism. Some of the most read books by those within the movement included Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth.Larry Eskridge, "Jesus People" in Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, David B. Barrett, Encyclopedia of Christianity "... the popularity of books like Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth (1970) mirrored hippie perceptions of the apocalyptic direction of modern America"

Perhaps the most illustrative aspect of the Jesus movement was its communal aspect. Many Jesus People lived in commune. Though there were some groups, such as the Calvary Chapel movement, which did not live in communes, these remained more on the fringes of the Jesus movement. Within the commune, the group became more important than the individual and communal sharing of possessions was the norm. One example would be Graham Pulkingham's community described in his book They Left Their Nets. Some of the communes became highly authoritarian.

Growth and decline

Secular and Christian media exposure in 1971 and 1972 caused the Jesus movement to explode across the United States, attracting evangelical youth eager to identify with the movement. The Shiloh communities and the Children of God attracted many new recruits while many other communes and fellowships sprang up.

Perhaps the height of the Jesus movement was in the week-long gathering in Dallas, Texasmarker known as Explo '72. This gathering attracted 80,000 young people and brought the hippies of the Jesus movement together with young people from traditional Christian families and churches. The event was organized by the very traditional Campus Crusade for Christ and involved such traditional leaders as Bill Bright and Billy Graham. Many of the young Jesus People attending Explo '72 discovered for the first time these and other traditional avenues of Christian worship and experience.

Although Explo '72 marked the highwater mark of media interest, the Jesus movement continued at a grass roots level with smaller individual groups and communities.


Although the Jesus movement lasted no more than a decade (except for the Jesus People USA which continues to exist in Chicago), its influence on Christian culture can still be seen. Thousands of converts moved into leadership positions in churches and parachurch organisations. The informality of the Jesus movement's music and worship affected almost all evangelical churches. Some of the fastest growing US denominations of the late 20th century, such as Calvary Chapel, Hope Chapel Churches, and the Vineyard Churches, trace their roots directly back to the Jesus movement, as do parachurch organisations like Jews for Jesus and the multi-million dollar contemporary Christian music industry. Perhaps the most significant and lasting influence, however, was the growth of an emerging strand within evangelical Christianity that appealed to the contemporary youth culture. Eileen Luhr, "Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture "... University of California Press(2009) ISBN 0520255968"

Jesus music

There has been a long legacy of Christian music connected to the Jesus movement. Jesus music, also known as gospel beat music in the UKmarker, primarily began when some hippie and street musicians of the late 1960s and early 1970s converted to Christianity. They continued to play the same style of music they had played previously but began to write lyrics with a Christian message. Many music groups developed out of this, and some became leaders within the Jesus movement, most notably Barry McGuire, Love Song, Second Chapter of Acts, All Saved Freak Band, Servant, Petra, Stryper, Resurrection Band, Phil Keaggy, Dion DiMucci, Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary; Randy Stonehill, Randy Matthews, Andraé Crouch , Keith Green, and Larry Norman. The Joyful Noise Band traveled with a Christian community throughout the U.S. and Europe, performing in festivals held underneath giant tents. In the UK, Malcolm and Alwyn were the most notable agents of the gospel beat.

According to The Jesus People: Old-Time Religion in the Age of Aquarius by Enroth, Ericson, and Peters, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California founded the first Christian rock label when he launched the Maranatha Music label as an outlet for the Jesus music bands performing at Calvary worship services.


Belmont Avenue Church Of Christ

Don Finto was called to Belmont Avenue Church of Christ (now simply Belmont Church), an ailing old inner city church in Nashville, Tennesseemarker on Music Row between the public housing and several universities - Peabody, Vanderbiltmarker and Belmont Collegemarker etc. By the summer of 1971, the membership roll had dropped to about 75 elderly members. The church had mainstream roots in the Churches of Christ, but was transformed and firmly placed in the Jesus movement by an influx of counter cultural Christians.

Seating ran out, with people sitting the window sills or on the stage. It was not uncommon to find them walking the worst parts of Lower Broadway witnessing to hookers and addicts. Within a year or two the fellowship grew to hundreds and the famous Koinonia Coffee House was opened by Bob and Peggy Hughey. Koinonia had been an old "Five and Dime" store on Music Square that had closed down. The concerts held there on weekends helped east coast Christian music to grow in popularity. The house band was Dogwood, and many famous musicians regularly hit the stage, including Amy Grant, Brown Bannister, Chris Christian, Don Francisco, Fireworks, Annie and Steve Chapman, Clay In The Potter's Hand and many others.

Calvary Chapel

Unlike many other Christian movements, there was no single leader or figurehead of the Jesus movement. Some of the larger names include Duane Pederson, Jack Sparks, who led the Christian World Liberation Front, as well as Lonnie Frisbee, who worked for a time along with Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement. Frisbee was a key evangelist during the growth of the Calvary churches; Smith was one of the few pastors who welcomed in the hippies who after coming to faith, eventually became known as Jesus people, and thus allowed for the dramatic future growth of his affiliate church network. Sparks and Pederson later became priests in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The international Potter's House Church (CFM) was birthed out of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a church movement based in Los Angeles where Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel, received his early theological training.

Children of God

Another early leader was Linda Meissner, who formed the Jesus People Army in Seattlemarker. She later joined her group with the Children of God, not discovering until later the controversial practices of that group.

Christ Is The Answer

Beginning in 1971, Christ Is The Answer took the concept of Christian community in a unique direction. Originally composed of former hippies, musicians, and artists, this mobile group featured Christian rock music, theatrical presentations, and discipleship preaching underneath a giant tent (a la Godspell). Their traveling festivals were held in cities throughout the U.S. & Europe. CITA's New Manna national street paper was cutting-edge with its challenging editorial content, relevant cartoons, and observations about mainstream society and church life. Evangelistic outreach teams were sent to various nations throughout the world, many of which are still in operation today.

Fellowship House Church

Steve Freeman and others opened the Kingdom Come Christian Coffee House in Greenville, South Carolinamarker, in 1971. Each Saturday night hippies and Jesus People gathered for worship, songs and fellowship. In 1972 several people who were highly involved in the Kingdom Come graduated from high schools and dispersed in several colleges and universities throughout the Southeastern United States. Each one started a Fellowship House Church. Maynard Pittendreigh established one at Erskine Collegemarker, Jay Holmes established one at the University of South Carolinamarker, Steve Freeman established on at Furman Universitymarker, etc. Leadership moved from Steve Freeman to a charismatic preacher named Erskine Holt, a self-described apostle of the movement who lived in Florida. By 1973 nearly every campus throughout Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia had Fellowship House Churches. These generally died out by 1977, with many of the members moving to more traditional campus ministries. Many, however, moved onto similar ministry in such organizations as Calvary Chapel.

His Young People

A short lived group founded during the Jesus Movement was His Young People. Started as a home Bible study group in the winter of1971 by former Foursquare Preacher Dave Compton, His Young People grew to 300-400 youth meeting 4 times a week at Dave Compton's Diamond Bar, California three-car garage. The group was abruptly ended in early 1972 when Dave Compton met an untimely death at the age of 34 when tossed from a horse. Many of the new converts at His Young People came out of the hippie/rock 'n roll/drug culture of the early 70's. The Children of God, a group of Brethren Christian believers and others tried to take over the group after Dave Compton's death but most of the group either filtered out, went to Christian Chapel of Walnut Valley or joined Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa (Pastor Chuck Smith). A number of the His Young People converts went on to become church leaders and pastors.

Jesus Army

In the UK, the Jesus Army was among the groups most influenced by the Jesus movement, embracing (former) hippies, bikers and drug addicts, among others. Many of the church adopted a communal lifestyle, which continues to this day, with over 600 living in Christian Community.

Jesus People USA

One of Meissner's disciples was Jim Palosaari, who, along with his wife, Sue, started a number of Christian communes, discipleship schools (to develop theological depth), and rock bands. One group toured through Europe, developing Christian music and drama, while some went off to start Christ is the Answer. Another eventually became Jesus People USA (JPUSA), the largest and most enduring of the Jesus people communes.

Shiloh Youth Revival Centers

The Shiloh Youth Revival Centers movement was the largest Jesus People communal movement in the United States in the 1970s. Founded by John Higgins in 1968 as a small communal house - House of Miracles - in Costa Mesa, CA, the movement quickly grew to a very large movement catering mostly to disaffected college-age youth. There were over 100,000 people involved and 175 communal houses established during its lifespan. Two years after the movement's founding, Higgins and some of the core members of the movement bought of land near Dexter, Oregon and built a new headquarters which they called "The Land". The movement grew quickly until the mid-1970s when increasing competition and high turn-over rates likely slowed its growth.

In the spring of 1978 the board members of the fledgling religion forced the resignation of the charismatic leader of the movement, John Higgins, alleging the improper use of the growing funds of the movement. Rather than fight the board's recommendations, Higgins stepped down and the movement quickly dissolved. Higgins is currently the Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Tempe, Arizonamarker. Several individuals remained on the Oregon property as caretakers, but an eventual legal battle with the IRS over the charitable status of incomes earned by members during the movements existence ultimately led to the complete dissolution and liquidation of the movement and its assets in 1989.

While membership in the movement was voluntary, it was also communal and required substantial commitment. To join the movement, members were expected to make a commitment to Jesus Christ and, in return, they would be given free food, clothes, shelter, and medical care. All members worked together for the support of the ministry, so all wages went into the common fund.


  1. Revival Breaks Out at Asbury College in 2006
  2. One Divine Moment
  3. Paul Noel Stookey's 1968 conversion.


  • Di Sabatino, David. The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999).
  • Ronald M. Enroth, Edward E. Ericson and C. Breckinridge Peters, The Jesus People: Old-Time Religion in the Age of Aquarius (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1972). ISBN 0-8028-1443-3
  • Larry Eskridge, "Jesus People" in Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, David B. Barrett, Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids:William B. Eerdmans, 1999). ISBN 0-802-82415-3
  • Donald Heinz, "The Christian World Liberation Front," in The New Religious Consciousness, Charles Y. Glock and Robert N. Bellah, eds. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976) pp. 143–161. ISBN 0-520-03083-4
  • Edward E. Plowman, The Jesus Movement (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972). ISBN 0-340-16125-6
  • Young, Shawn David, Hippies, Jesus Freaks, and Music (Ann Arbor: Xanedu/Copley Original Works, 2005). ISBN 1-59399-201-7

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