Jesus People USA

Jesus People USA

Founder: John Herrin Sr.

Date of Birth: unknown

Birth Place: unknown

Year Founded: 1971 (

Sacred or Revered Texts: The Bible; particularly the example set forth in the Book of Acts (2:44-47, 4:32-35).

Size of Group: 500 (see


By the late-1960’s, the youth counter-culture had reached its peak. Drug use flourished, “hippies” were the center of the media’s attention, and most striking of all, significant numbers of these youth were becoming Christians. Onlookers knew these young people by various names: “Jesus Freaks,” “Jesus People,” and “Street Christians.” A large proportion of these youthful evangelists for Jesus were only a short while removed from drugs, “free love,” and alienation from “straight society.” They spoke of a “Jesus Revolution” and believed that the endtimes were near (Enroth:12).

Most adhered to the “fundamentals of the faith,” doctrines outlining a faith of biblical inerrancy, and affirmed fundamental Christian views. On the whole, the primary focus of the Movement centered on salvation through an “experience of faith in Jesus Christ” (DiSabatino, 1999:5). But there were other elements that made this movement difficult for the uninitiated to grasp including the wide-spread influence of Pentecostalism, speaking in tongues, and “second blessing” baptisms. Although the “Jesus Movement” was not entirely self-conscious as a movement, they felt as though they were participants in a genuine awakening, comparing themselves to the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century (Enroth:15).

It is difficult to trace the beginnings of the movement as the “Jesus People” were not a unified front but, rather, many individual groups, often geographically isolated from the others. Most scholars point to the 1967 opening of the first street Christianity locus, “The Living Room” in southern California, as the beginning of evangelical outreach to the youth counter-culture (DiSabitino, 1999:7). This outreach of countercultural-oriented missionary groups spread quickly. By 1971, the National Institute of Health estimated over three thousand communal groups in the U.S., and over 800 were deemed to be part of the Jesus People Movement (DiSabatino, 1994: Chapter III). By embracing the countercultural phenomena of communal living, these groups were able to capture the sentiments of “anti-establishment” while still adhering to Christian traditions.

This is the context in which the organization now known as “Jesus People USA” was born. Jon Trott, a long-time member, editor of Cornerstone magazine, and resident historian of the group traces the beginning to early 1971. Jim and Sue Palosaari, with the help of Linda Meissner — founder of Seattle-based the “Jesus People Army” traveled to the midwest searching for a location to start a Jesus ministry. Finding Milwaukee hospitable, the couple launched a ministry with an initial “march” through Milwaukee. From this initial effort, they gained 25 members and named themselves “Jesus People Milwaukee” (JPM). The group attracted members of the counter-culture: young persons who were on drugs, outcasts, runaways, and gays — all people who “needed Jesus.”

In October 1971, John Wiley Herrin, a southern pastor with a history of alcohol abuse and marital infidelity, visited JPM with his wife and children. The family was attracted to the communal lifestyle, dedicating “your entire life, every aspect, to following Jesus Christ,” and shortly thereafter, joined the group. By November 1971, JPM numbered 100. Three months later, the group boasted a following of nearly 200 members.

By April 1972, JPM splintered off into several groups in order to evangelize in Europe. Herrin formed a small group, consisting of a “Jesus Rock” band, the “Resurrection,” and thirty others to “share the gospel,” dubbing themselves the Jesus People USA (JPUSA). Traveling in an old bus and a few cars throughout the summer of 1971, they became one foci of media attention — long-haired, hippy evangelists who had set out to “evangelize the United States.” In late 1971 the group left the “home base” behind in Milwaukee and traveled south to Gainesville, Florida, where musical performances were made for the college crowd at the University of Florida at Gainesville. They found little positive response in Gainesville, and felt they were also being confused with another highly publicized group, the “Children of God.” Discouraged by their lack of success, the group returned to Duluth, Minnesota in hopes of forming a permanent community. Shortly thereafter, they felt “burdened by the need of the city,” and relocated in Chicago, Illinois. Here, they found hospitable residence in the local Faith Tabernacle Church.

At this point in the JPUSA evolution, their self-proclaimed missions included a “discipleship school, street-witnessing, and rallies with the band.” The “Resurrection” group’s music performances were the centerpiece of evangelism to the Chicago teenagers.

JPUSA experienced its first administrative crisis in 1974 when leader John W. Herrin became “obsessed” with a young woman in the community. When the situation was brought to the attention of the leadership, there followed several months of unsuccessful counseling ministry. The crisis was resolved when Herrin moved west, divorced his wife, and left the ministry. Two deacons, Glenn Kaiser and Richard Murphy, were elected to lead the group as elders in Herrin’s absence.

Another troubling development began to unfold in the summer of 1974, when Jack Winters, a member of a local charismatic community, Daystar, began teaching classes for JPUSA. His message centered on the need for “discipline” in the lives of rebellious youth. Members were encouraged to bear “the rod,” and administer liberal “spankings” to wayward youth. This practice lasted for three years before the leadership decided the type of doctrine had gone “overboard,” and were “discontinued.” JPUSA’s relationship with Winters deteriorated further when he pushed them to join Daystar or disband and “go home.”

By 1975, JPUSA recognized their need for a permanent residence and, after much consideration, purchased a six-flat residence at 4431-33 Paulina Street. Lofts were built, and the large rooms were converted to men’s and women’s dorms, some housing as many as 20 people.

During this time, JPUSA established Cornerstone magazine, which would become a well-respected national religious publication. The group also sought more stable finances than could be provided for by charity or money pooling, and therefore established several small companies, focusing on home repairs, painting, roofing, and carpentry, known as the “tent-making ministries.”

In 1978, JPUSA merged with a parallel, black urban Christian communal group, settling into a former hotel found in a run-down neighborhood off Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. As the early 1980’s began, the members made attempts to become more socially involved, a dinner program was started, and homeless sheltering increased. In order to increase outreach on a larger scale, the first Cornerstone Festival,a Woodstock-type music festival, was planned for June of 1984. After witnessing the success of the festival, it was made an annual event.

By the late eighties, Chicago was considered to be in the midst of a housing crisis, and JPUSA extended its mission to help the homeless. The group remained on Paulina Street, but in 1987, they purchased, by means of a grant from the city of Chicago and a mortgage through Evangelical Covenant Church, a giant factory building on Clifton Avenue to house more homeless.

During this same time period, JPUSA also opened a pro-life agency, named Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC), which handled approximately sixty clients per month ( Bozeman). JPUSA’s constant outreach to the public brought them recognition in the community, although they occasionally found themselves financially hurting. As the business manager, speaking to John Bozeman during his M.A. thesis research of the group, noted: “[We] always have more plans than money, but somehow or another we scrape by. We’re still here eighteen years later — usually a little broke” ( Bozeman).

As part of JPUSA’s calling to “serve the world,” members (and visitors) are encouraged to participate in a host of service and outreach programs. Aside from keeping a main residence open to the public, JPUSA supports the following programs:

Cornerstone Community Outreach
An emergency shelter for women with children

Friendly Towers
JPUSA’s housing program for low-income seniors

Brothas and S.I.S.T.A.S. United
An outreach to neighborhood youth, offering tutoring and various activities

Concerned Crafts
Handcraft fundraising program to support developing nations

Cornerstone Festival
JPUSA’s annual musical outreach festival

Three decades after the Jesus People Movement emerged from the youth counter-culture of the 1960s, Jesus People USA is one of only a few communical groups to survive intact. After 25 years, JPUSA is currently still located at the same address and they now number around 500 (see: “the last communal remnant of the Jesus People Movement” on their web site. They remain steadfast in their commitment to spread the gospel and extend human services to those in need.


One of the essential beliefs of JPUSA, is the importance of communal living. The group adheres to the idea that “living together [is] to dedicate your entire life, every aspect, to following Jesus Christ.” This follows from the Biblical reference “He who has two coats let him share with him who has none” (Luke 3:11) and “If a man comes to you and you send him away with empty blessings, you profit neither him nor yourself (James 2:15-16).

Much of the ideology of communal living is based on the Book of Acts, where first- century Christians were described as “of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possesions…” (Acts 4:32). In order to preserve this lifestyle, members are required to sign an official JPUSA Covenant, outlining the ways of the group. The important points of this agreement are that:

Members are not obligated to turn over any assets

Married couples are not permitted to turn over substantial assets until full membership

Members are asked not to use personal bank funds for private expenditures, unless first approved

Members may keep small items (i.e. clothing, stereos, and bicycles)

Upon leaving the community, a member may not take back assets which he or she turned over to the community (Shupe: 34).

As a sectarian, evangelistic group, members of Jesus People USA adhere to traditional Christian views. As their statement of faith, the official JPUSA internet site outlines the following claims:

We believe that the Bible is the uniquely inspired and inerrant Word of God and is fully binding on all matters of faith, doctrine, and practice. We also accept the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

We believe in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which says, specifically: that there is one and only one God — eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, triune; that within the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons, co-equal, co-eternal, and consubstantial — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; and that these three Persons are the one God.

We believe in the preexistence and full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, who through the Incarnation became man without ceasing to be God, being at the same time both God and man, fully human and fully divine, in one Person.

We believe in the historic Virgin Birth of Jesus, the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, His sinless life, His death on the cross for our sins, His bodily resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into Heaven, according to the Scriptures.

We believe that as a result of the historic, space-time Fall in the Garden of Eden, man became a sinner and hopelessly separated from God; that Jesus Christ is the only provision for atonement for sin and reconciliation to God; that without the new birth no man will see the kingdom of God, and because of God’s grace, not his own works, man is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ; and that on the coming Day of Judgment all men will be resurrected bodily — the saved to enjoy eternal life with God, and the unsaved to face an eternal, righteous punishment in Hell.

We believe in and practice baptism by immersion, and we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

We believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, in which He will personally and visibly return from Heaven to judge the living and the dead, and although no man can know the day, hour, or year, His return is imminent.

We believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, through whom all believers are justified, regenerated, and sanctified, Who is given to the Church to produce both fruit and gifts in its members, and that He makes it possible for a person who believes in Christ to live a godly life in this present fallen world.

We believe that all Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit upon their regeneration, and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for today’s Church.

We believe in the spiritual unity of all true believers in Christ; and that these believers, who are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord, are thus recognized as His Church. (

Issues and Controversy

Aside from Herrin’s embarrassing leadership and Winter’s controversial “spanking” doctrine, JPUSA had not been the target of much controversy up until 1993. In that year, Ronald Enroth, an evangelical Christian sociologist and countercultist from California’s Westmont College announced his intention to publish damaging claims about JPUSA in interviews with ex-members, turned apostates. Included in his soon-to-be published book would be reports of “administrative and personal abuse” by JPUSA leaders that resulted in emotional damage. The ex-members, according to Enroth, displayed “excessive dependence, low self-esteem, disillusionment, and guilt.” Further, he would report on dual-lifestyle standards between leaders and members as well as inadequate education and health care (Shupe:36).

JPUSA leaders were “shocked” by these claims, viewing themselves as a countercultist movement, always striving for “investigative reporting, constantly seeking to maintain biblical standards of integrity and accountability” (“Acid Test”). Much of the journalism found in Cornerstone is devoted to “cult” investigations, examining mainstream evangelical missions and controversial nonevangelical groups (Shupe: 34). JPUSA felt Enroth’s claims were clearly contrary to their own written policies and teachings (“Acid Test”).

JPUSA utilized the pages of Cornerstone to go on the offensive. They published a 7-page open letter to Enroth addressing each of his claims, (Pement:65-72). The issue also contained the first installment of an eight-part history of the movement authored by Jon Trott. The same issue of Cornerstone an article by Ruth Tucker, a evangelical scholar of cults from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a letter from William Backus, Director of the Center for Christian Psychological Services in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an interview with Anson Shupe, sociologist and a leading authority on the anti-cult movement.

JPUSA invited Enroth and Shupe to visit and promised cooperation with whatever investigations either scholar might choose to pursue. Shupe accepted the invitation and his observations were published (Shupe, 1998). Shupe criticized Enroth’s investigative techniques on several counts. First, in this and other instances, Enroth refuses to provide details surrounding ex-members leaving the group or to take these circumstances into consideration in assessing their accounts. Second, Enroth has repeatedly relied on apostate accounts without conducting field work with groups in question. Anson Shupe, argues that treating ex-members “narrative accounts as literal…history” is “naive methodology” (Trott, “Leaving”). Shupe concludes from his own investigation of the group that Enroth’s accusations were based solely on angry hearsay, and JPUSA is not an internally damaging or abusive group (Shupe:36).

JPUSA leaders pledged in the pages of Cornerstone to remain accountable and “transparent.” As of this writing, Enroth has not accepted JPUSA’s invitation to visit.


Backus, William. 1993*. “Who’s Abusing Who?” Cornerstone . Vol.22, Issue 102-103:35-36.

Bozeman , John M. 1990. Jesus People U.S.A.: An Examination of an Urban Communitarian Religious Group. M.A. thesis., Florida State University, 1990. Available

Cornerstone Staff. 1993*. “An Acid Test for Christian Accountability.” Cornerstone . Vol.22, Issue 102-103:5,8.

DiSabatino, David. 1994. History of the Jesus People Movement McMaster Divinity College , M.A. Thesis. Available

DiSabatino, David. 1999. The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource. Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Enroth, Ronald M. 1972. The Jesus People: Old-Time Religion in the Age of Aquarius. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Pement, Eric and Jon Trott. 1993*. “An Open Letter to Dr. Ronald Enroth.” Cornerstone . Vol.22, Issue 102-103:65-72.

Shupe, Anson. 1998. “Jesus People USA,” in Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities. William W. Zellner and Marc Petrowsky, eds. Westport, CT: Praeger:27-39.

Shupe, Anson. 1993.* “The Pain of Leaving, the Pain of Being Left.” Cornerstone .Vol.22, Issue 102-103:43-47. (Interview with Shupe).

Trott, Jon. 1993.* “A History of Jesus People USA Covenant Church: Part I” Cornerstone .Vol.22, Issue 102-103:10-12.

Trott, Jon. 1994.* “History of Jesus People USA Covenant Church: Part II.” Cornerstone . Vol.23, Issue 104:18-23.

Trott, Jon. 1995a.* “History of Jesus People USA Covenant Church:Part III.” Cornerstone . Vol.23, Issue 105:37-41.

Trott, Jon. 1995b.* “History of Jesus People USA: Part IV.” Cornerstone . Vol.23, Issue 106:43-48.

Trott, Jon. n.d.* “History of Jesus People USA: Part V.” Cornerstone . Vol.24, Issue 107:45-47.

Trott, Jon. n.d.* “The History of Jesus People USA: Part VI.” Cornerstone . Vol.25, Issue 108:47-48.

Trott, Jon. n.d.* “The History of Jesus People USA: Part VII.” Cornerstone . Vol.25, Issue 109:43-46.

Trott, Jon. n.d.* “The History of Jesus People USA, Part VIII.” Cornerstone . Vol.25, Issue 110:45-48.

Tucker, Ruth. 1993.* “JPUSA is Family” Cornerstone . Vol.22, Issue 102-103:41.

*Publication of Cornerstone does not occur on a regularly scheduled basis. Volume and issue are always listed, but many issues do not list a date. The issues here containing year of publication were identified to us by Anson Shupe.

Created by Lindsay Prorock
For Soc257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 1999
Last modified: 07/19/01