Jesus Movement: The Groovy Side of 1970s Christianity

If you were alive in the 1970s, you probably remember the Jesus Movement. This unique period in Christianity was marked by its focus on love and acceptance and its embrace of popular culture. The Jesus Movement was a time when Christianity was “groovy,” and it left a lasting impact on the world. Let’s look at the history and unique aspects of the Jesus Movement!

What was the Jesus Movement?

The Jesus Movement was a religious and social movement that started in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was characterized by its focus on love, peace, and social justice. The Jesus Movement also rejected the traditional trappings of Christianity, such as organized religion and formal churches. Instead, they advocated for a more personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Jesus Movement was a youth-led movement. With rare exceptions, most leaders of the Jesus Movement were under 30. So the movement emphasized being relevant to the youth of the day and in touch with pop culture.

The Origin of the Jesus Movement

The counterculture of the 1960s had a strong spiritual component. Hippies explored different religions, primarily Eastern religions, but also a more personal version of Christianity, and experimented with drugs in search of an altered state of consciousness. Additionally, Christian pastors began to establish a presence in the Haight-Ashbury area to minister to the kids flocking to the area.

The media began reporting on this new movement in glowing terms. The article, The Jesus Movement is Upon Us, in the Feb 9, 1971 issue of Look Magazine, described former potheads stoned on Jesus instead of drugs and heroin addicts cured of their addiction in 30 seconds with no withdrawal pains.

Look Magazine article about the Jesus Movement

With so much glowing press, it was only natural that the movement began to spread nationwide. Typically, the local Jesus Movement consisted of a group of believers, pretty much always young people, who held regular worship services and Bible studies – usually very informal, with much discussion – wherever they could: someone’s home, a cheap rented space, even a coffee house.

Most “Jesus Freaks” (a name Jesus Movement followers weren’t too fond of) explicitly rejected the hippies’ drug use and free love philosophy but kept their insistence on keeping things real and wearing long hair and casual clothes.

Explo ’72

The peak of the Jesus Movement was Explo ’72, an evangelical conference held in June 1972 for high school and college students. Over 80,000 students attended the 5-day conference, including seminars during the day and services in the evening. The event concluded with a day-long Christian music festival with performers such as  Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson.

Unique Aspects of the Jesus Movement

The new movement was more Fundamentalist and Evangelical than most organized religion was at the time. Followers believed that Jesus was coming soon and that believers would be raptured. Some spoke in tongues.

The movement also stressed having a personal connection to Christ and how following Jesus would make you happy and fulfilled, even solving your problems. A story I read in the 11/29/74 edition of The Daily Messenger (found on is typical. It describes Mona, who has been attending Calvery Church for six months. In that time, she’s broken off a bad engagement, gotten a better job, and even bought a car. Good job, Mona!

Followers of the Jesus Movement were called Jesus People or Jesus Freaks. They met with a mixed reception from more mainstream Christians: some church leaders turned away from the youth who showed up to services with long hair and in jeans, while others welcomed the converts.

The Music of The Jesus Movement

The Jesus Movement produced some of the most influential Christian music. Artists like Larry Norman, Love Song, and Second Chapter of Acts were making music popular with Christians and non-Christians. The Jesus Music genre is characterized by its focus on simple melodies and lyrics and its use of electric guitars and other rock instruments.

Ekiledal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Jesus Movement and the interest of the era’s youth in Jesus also influenced Broadway with the popularity of the Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. The popularity of those plays, with their portrayals of a loving and peaceful Jesus Christ, helped the movement attract new followers.

The Bible for the Jesus Movement

Another impact of the Jesus movement was the demand for a Bible that was both easy to read and relevant to the youth of the day. The Way, an illustrated edition of The Living Bible, was released in 1972 by the editors of Campus Life Magazine as an attempt to create a Bible that spoke to teenagers and college students.

This Bible had quotes from the Beatles and the Bee Gees and photos of present-day young people. Jesus said things like,

I, the Messiah, have the authority on earth to forgive sins. But talk is cheap-anybody could say that. So, I’ll prove it to you by healing this man.

Luke 6:23-24

I remember really liking this Bible. It didn’t pander by having Jesus say things like, “Look, man, you’re being a drag.” But it was still more accessible for me to read than previous translations.

How the Jesus Movement Changed Christianity

Ironically, one of the most significant changes of the Jesus movement was to move organized religion to be more evangelical and fundamentalist. Though that’s now associated with being conservative politically and personally, one major belief of the evangelical movement is that each person must come to salvation by becoming “born again,” by accepting Jesus Christ into their heart as their personal savior. It’s difficult to remember, but the Jesus Movement’s insistence on having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was a radical idea at the time.

The Jesus Movement also introduced more informality into mainstream worship. Over time, most church services have become more informal. Most churches have an information worship option, and many churches offer only informal services.

End-times religions became more popular, and many religions now preach that Jesus Christ is coming soon. This was considered an extreme view in the 60s and 70s.

The Jesus Movement was a time when Christianity was groovy, relevant, and cool. It’s a movement that left a lasting impact on both the church and popular culture.