The Jesus Movement was directly related to the hippie counterculture of the sixties and seventies; it embraced many of the same objectives but approached them quite differently. Those involved were often called Jesus people (or Jesus freaks). It arose on the West Coast and thrived for a decade before its decline, by which time it had spread primarily throughout North America and Europe. Its legacy, therefore, was significant, especially its impact on the youth, with responses to the excesses of capitalism, the war in Vietnam, the corruption of political institutions, the need for social justice and equality, and the stodginess of mainstream Christian denominations. Such issues helped to secure a greater role for lay ministry and programs designed for outreach that revolutionized charismatic churches. This was in part due to the decline of the movement, since many who were involved became ordained and returned to the streets independently to preach the gospel.
The Jesus people, a phrase that Duane Pederson of the Hollywood Free Paper coined, were featured in Time and identified as closely associated with the charismatic movement that had already spread throughout traditional Protestant and Catholic churches. It was based on the notion that the spiritual gifts of the first century returned in order to empower modern believers, and most participants maintained that this was a sign that they were living in the last days, one of many apocalyptic elements of the movement. However, the Jesus people retained several styles and customs of the hippies, while altering the content to reflect their new faith culture. While leaving their former lifestyle, most were able to speak to former discontents with a message of salvation, rather than rejecting all aspects of conventional life. All this emerged at the close of the Civil Rights Movement, an era replete with social maladies and public corruption that energized the efforts of those on the fringe of the church.
They interpreted most beliefs through a desire to return to a form of the faith that originally occurred in first-century Jerusalem, as described in the Book of Acts. This eventually resulted in disdain, more or less, for mainline denominations. Its leaders taught asceticism, or relations only within marriage, in contrast to “free love,” an adage of the hippies, and believed in miracles, signs, wonders, healings, and exorcism. Since most rejected theological institutions, they interpreted scripture based on an immediate application of its content, and this led to intense evangelism as well as a certainty that Jesus would return during their lifetime, a keystone of the movement. What they lacked in understanding they gained in zeal for the gospel message, and consequently they strove for political neutrality, religious integrity, and human dignity. Rather than raise middle-class families, many lived in communes and shared all things in common, as described in the founding years of the original Jesus movement.