Why the Jesus People Movement

Of all the points in Christian history with which to interact, why on earth would I pick such a relatively short and ignored moment? It’s a fair question. The Jesus People Movement ran from roughly 1968 -1972 (with some continuing impact going into ’75), and gets very little attention. Yet, this moment in history, short as it was, has a lot to offer us in terms of insights on Misfit Ministry.

For starters, the Jesus People give us a model of contextualized ministry. It wasn’t without its flaws, to be sure. There are aspects of the contextualization of both church and evangelism that cause me to shake my head, or raise my eyebrow. Overall, however, there was among this group an intentional effort to connect with people on their turf, to show how the gospel was relevant for the world in which they actually lived and moved. Like successful missionaries all over the world, the Jesus People saw that the gospel had a lot to offer the Hippie culture and they sought to contextualize the gospel in way that made that clear. “Hippie Evangelists,” like Ted Wise or Lonnie Frisbee, were actual missionaries in their cultural contexts.

Secondly, the Jesus People give us a tremendous picture of what devotion and commitment look like. In reading accounts of the movement I have been struck by the seriousness with which many took their faith. Some gave up everything to follow Christ. Steve Heefner, one of the forefathers of the so-called “Jesus Revolution” gave up a highly successful career as a rock dj. Many uprooted their families and moved where they believed God was calling them. Christian communes struggled to find food, but banded together in faith, trusting that God would provide. It is overwhelming to read about the devotion, commitment, and seriousness with which many of these newfound Christians had. They really did believe that Jesus was the center of their lives, that whatever the Word of God commanded they were required to do! It’s humbling, and it was winsome in its age.

Thirdly, there is a sense in which the Jesus People Movement is a forgotten Great Awakening in American History. This was a massive revival that sprawled across the whole U.S. It started in the San Francisco Bay Area, moved further into Southern California and then began to spread East. It popped up in major cities all across the country, and in rural small towns – like Greensburg, KY. Some scholars estimate that over 250,000 people were saved as a result of the work of Jesus People evangelists. The movement launched missionary endeavors to the UK, and to India. It saw the rise of thousands of ministries (coffee shops, shelters, churches, festivals, and even denominations). We can acknowledge that not every organization, group, or evangelist was a positive example and that there are many implications from the movement that are not healthy. Overall, however, it was a revival in this country that had a massive impact on the religious landscape, particularly for youth.

Finally, the Jesus People Movement demonstrates the relationship between Jesus and the culture around us. The Jesus People saw that Christ and Christianity had implications for all the rest of their lives. So, the Bible had something to say about drugs, finances, poverty, war, peace, materialism, pragmatism, and love. There was no separation between religion and life, they were one and the same. While the group’s hermeneutic was sometimes immature, one of the hallmarks of the Jesus People was a commitment to a literal reading and application of the Bible. If the Bible said it then they were to follow it. They read the Bible, took it seriously, and sought to live it out (not that they always did that well).

As I think about Misfit Ministry I find a lot of encouragement from reading the story of the Jesus People Movement. There are lots of warnings, of course, and I’ll write about those too, but there is also a lot of insight and hope in their story. In summary fashion, I note that healthy Misfit Ministry pays attention to the culture context, takes the Word of God seriously, and is willing to risk a lot for the sake of others. These are core values I can get behind.

Perhaps you were part of the Jesus People Movement. Perhaps you were influenced directly or indirectly by it. I’d love to hear some of your favorite memories. I’d love to hear how it shaped your faith – for good or ill. Share with me in the comments whatever you’d like about your past experiences. This is a part of history that is worth remembering and worth learning from.


  1. Pastor Dave – I have been reading and studying about the “Jesus People Movement” since I found a book in a Thrift Store called “The Jesus Generation” by Billy Graham. He expressed many of your same sentiments when he was confronted with and explored the Jesus Movement. He found there were flaws, but overall that they were genuine, and that their love for God’s Word, and devotion to Jesus were the overarching hallmarks of that generation of new believers.

    I am from Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, also a church like Calvary Chapel and Vineyard that traces its roots to the Jesus Movement. The founding Pastor Ralph Moore even wrote a book called “Let Go of the Ring” where he describes what it was like to try to be a traditional shepherd to bikers, drug addicts, surfers and hippies. He said ultimately that he had to just stand back and “Let it happen”.

    Now fast forward to today, where we are faced with much of the same polarization that characterized the 60’s, the violence, the moral declines, the anger. We need a Jesus revolution every bit as much now as they did then! Since I started looking, I came across a Conference happening at Biola / Talbot coming up in October. While I am just a lay person, I do teach the Bible in Sunday School, and I evangelize on the streets and college campuses.

    I am deeply distressed, and in many ways disturbed by the cultural decline I see around us. I believe as Chuck Colson always said that we are to be “Culture creators”. After all, that’s what Jesus meant when he said we are to be salt and light, yes? So, I have been searching very hard this past year for something, some clue, some way to try to find where the Holy Spirit is working and go there and follow him! That’s our clue, even if it’s in the pits of the worst place on earth, eh?

    The Conference is called Ablaze 2021. I am thinking seriously about it. I may even get my wife to join me! I’m not advertising, simply saying we need to do something. It’s time, and the church has been pushed to the back burner of irrelevancy by this culture long enough. We can figure out where Jesus wants us to be if we’re willing to follow him no matter what.


  2. Thanks fo the info, friend. This looks like an interesting event and if I weren’t already booked for another conference at that time I would definitely consider attending this.

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