by Ron F. Hale
Wearing a loosely fitted white dress with flowers in her long blonde hair —her words caught us by surprise. We were walking toward the Liberty Bowl in Memphis to hear Black Oak Arkansas band steal the show from the Three Dog Night. Approaching us, she said, “Jesus loves you, peace!”
Shocked by her greeting, I stopped briefly and watched her stroll into the bluejeaned crowd while preaching her message over and over. I heard one passing redneck say, “She’s one of those d__n Jesus Freaks!”
The Jesus People Movement was a spiritual awakening that started in California in the late 1960s. Some pinpoint the place of origin as the Living Room in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district.
Hippies were “turning on” to Jesus as the promise of drugs, free-love & sex, and rock-n-roll left them unfulfilled and fried. These young enthusiastic counter-cultural converts were called “Jesus Freaks.”
They had a funky faith that danced on the edge of evangelicalism in its beginning days. Hippies, bikers, druggies, and runaway deadheads were drawn to the Jesus Movement that retained some aspects of their former life like communal living, guitar-driven music, anti-establishment vibes, and a quest for finding true love.
Jesus became cool in the minds and hearts of many young people! But who would God raise up to bridge this “generation gap” and gather them into groups for discipleship? It became quite clear early on that barefoot Hippies with tattered and torn blue jeans and long hair would not be copasetic with most straight-laced congregations (even on the West Coast).
Arthur Blessitt, famous for walking with a large cross, opened a coffee house on the Sunset Strip called His Place. Ministering to Hells Angels, hippies, drug addicts, flower children, aspiring actors, artists, and singers—His Place became a lively place for a new breed of Christian music and discussions about “End Times” as Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book The Late Great Planet Earth had people looking for the prophetic rise of the Antichrist and the unfolding events in the Book of Revelation. Into that mix add Larry Norman’s hit Christian Rock song entitled I Wish We’d All Been Ready and many Jesus Freaks took to the streets with a simple evangelistic message of “turn to Jesus before it’s too late!”
Pastor Chuck Smith caught a vision in reaching the hippies in the Huntington Beach area as he became the new minister of a small congregation in Costa Mesa, California. Recruiting Lonnie Frisbee and John Higgins, Pastor Chuck opened a drug rehab center and commune called The House of Miracles. Preaching a verse-by-verse message each week while loving thousands to Jesus by caring for their needs, Pastor Chuck literally became a “father figure” to a new generation of Jesus followers with many becoming Christian leaders and church planters. The Calvary Chapel church planting movement has reached millions for Christ around the world and continues to thrive.
Greg Laurie was saved in 1970 under the ministry of Calvary Chapel. Laurie started out by witnessing with gospel tracts on the California beaches. Not happy with the gospel tracts of the day, Laurie personally penned a tract complete with his hand-drawn cartoons. Pastor Smith realized immediately that young Laurie had a gift in communicating the gospel. Calvary Chapel printed 10,000 copies of the tract—then 100,000. Soon, more than one million copies of the “Living Water” gospel tract was in the hands of everyday evangelists.
Pastor-evangelist Greg Laurie started Harvest Christian Fellowship and it has become one of the largest churches in America and a flagship congregation in the Calvary Chapel movement. Surprisingly, Laurie’s Billy Graham styled Harvest Crusades have reached thousands for Christ since Pastor Chuck Smith encouraged him to experiment with one many years ago.
So where have all the Jesus Freaks gone?
As they ventured out to “find themselves” they got hooked on Jesus, matured as new believers, got jobs, married, raised families and have made a lasting impact on the Church. The Jesus Movement has had far-reaching effects in the areas of contemporary Christian music (a more relaxed and spirit-led worship style), the rise of non-denominational churches and church planting movements, home Bible studies, parachurch ministries, campus ministries, and a much more casual atmosphere and dress in Church life.
The Jesus Movement took place in a cultural cauldron churning with change, confusion, and upheaval. Burning cities during race riots led the evening news, along with protests and marches over the Vietnam War in the late 60s. Pitting generation against generation– revolution was in the air. The “Big Three” nightly newscasts amped up the raw emotions of the nation by showcasing the grisly sight of the body bags of war. The student rights movement went into overdrive as four college students were shot and killed by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University. Draft cards were burned publicly and protest music filled the airwaves. It was a mixed-up messed-up time for teenagers during the “Age of Aquarius.”
Dr. Alvin Reid has reported the impact of the Jesus Movement on the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 70s. The high-water-mark year for Southern Baptist immersions was 1972 with 445,725 people being baptized—many were teenagers and young adults. BTW– Ronnie Floyd, the current president of the SBC was baptized that year!
Pastor John Bisagno of Houston’s First Baptist Church caught the wave first by baptizing 1,669 people in 1970, with 90% being youth. No SBC congregation had ever baptized over one-thousand people in a year. The only time in SBC history of recording over 400,000 baptisms for five consecutive years was from 1971-1975.
We can conclude the Jesus Movement hasn’t gone to pot! Many people were reached, discipled, called, and sent in the name of Jesus. That is “far out, dude!”