I graduated from a Southern California high school in 1964. During the following seven years, until the summer of 1971, various cultural revolutions shook our society to its roots. A political revolution reigned on many college campuses protesting the Vietnam War and the draft, a sexual revolution made a disastrous imprint on relationships, a psychedelic drug revolution caused many to lose their grip on reality, and the civil rights revolution exploded with urban riots. Also, the countercultural flower power of the hippie lifestyle served as a driving force for this whole period.
My own multifarious experiences while being caught up in these revolutionary activities left me exhausted, morally bankrupt, and searching for answers. I thank God that there was another revolution, one that, for me, eventually led to a totally changed life.
When the June 21, 1971, issue of Time Magazine hit the U.S. newsstands, the nation’s readers learned about this different kind of revolution.1 The cover of the magazine featured a hippiefied portrait in glowing colors of Jesus Christ. This startling illustration highlighted the issue’s lead story: “The Jesus Revolution” — a revolution that began in San Francisco and Los Angeles and was then influencing lives across the country.
In this cover story, Time reporters wrote of Jesus People on Hollywood Boulevard “witnessing for Christ with breathless exhortations”; of Christian coffeehouses opening in many cities; of strip joints being converted into Christian nightclubs; and of communal Christian houses popping up around the country. The magazine displayed color photos of mass baptisms along the California coast, hippies in hands-raised Pentecostal bliss, and a circle of praying athletes in the middle of a high school football field.
These same reporters seemed taken aback as they wrote about the movement’s young people having a “total belief in an awesome, supernatural Jesus Christ, not just a marvelous man who lived 2000 years ago but a living God who is both Savior and Judge…their lives revolving around the necessity for an intensely personal relationship with that same Jesus….”
At that same time, I found what was, for me, living proof that “Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) when I stumbled into a meeting of Pentecostal believers at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. There, in the winter of 1973, I whispered to Jesus to take control of my life. Later that year, I visited friends in Central Florida who begged me to escape California and come to start a new life with them in friendly, calmer (and hotter!) Central Florida.
At their urging, I moved from California to Orlando in 1974 and found a city seemingly vibrant with Christian activity. I felt the city experiencing its own Jesus Revolution as the downtown area was home to several Christian coffeehouses and two family-owned Christian bookstores, Logue’s Bible Bookstore and Long’s Christian Books, places vying for the opportunity to sell Bibles, tracts (remember the Four Spiritual Laws?), and the latest popular Christian books (remember The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay?), while simply welcoming believers to hang out.
The Orlando area had always been home to active churches and their institutionalized ministries supplemented by popular parachurch organizations such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, Youth for Christ, Teen Challenge, and Campus Crusade for Christ. These organizations added conferences, workshops, publications, concerts, evangelistic tools, and programs (remember Campus Crusade for Christ’s “I Found It!” campaign?) that kept the area stirring with Christ-centered activities.
In that atmosphere, before I arrived in Orlando, four or five couples had felt they were not being spiritually fed by their large, institutionalized churches. Starving for genuine fellowship and a type of expository Bible teaching that had been introduced to them by Campus Crusade for Christ, these couples had accepted an invitation from Howard Powell, a local professional photographer, to attend a Sunday night Bible study in his red barn in Chuluota’s ranch country east of Orlando.
There, in the midst of a pasture of gentle Brahman bulls, the people in this study expressed a mutual longing to know Jesus Christ more personally and a desire to be filled with, walk in, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit each day. This group also shared a concern for the needs of others, especially in bringing the lost to a saving faith in Jesus.
The group began to consider starting a non-denominational, Bible-teaching church that would be open to anyone willing to attend. As this was during the Jesus People era of long hair and informal dress (What? No shoes in church?), it was the group’s desire to begin a church that would feel welcoming and comfortable for all, a church like none other in the Orlando area.
When it came time to choose a name, a member suggested “Circle” because of the church’s all-encompassing New Testament emphasis and the habit of often meeting informally, grouped in circles in barns, converted garages, and members’ homes. In those early years, while Circle Community Church was forming in Orlando, several members of the originating group became interested in starting a similar non-denominational church closer to where they lived in Seminole County north of Orlando. This group appropriately named itself “Northland” and bought the old rat-infested Skate City roller rink on Dog Track Road in Longwood in 1972 as a permanent meeting place.
Back in Orlando, I became an enthusiastic member of Circle Community Church where, being unconditionally loved and accepted by the body of believers, I began to grow in Christ and learn about the riches of His eternal salvation. Circle’s main emphasis was teaching believers how to walk by faith in the Holy Spirit day-by-day and minute-by-minute. The women of Circle were particularly aggressive in taking this teaching to other women’s groups in churches throughout Central Florida.
Detailed histories of Circle Community Church and Northland2, A Church Distributed, are available on their respective websites. Here I would like to recall some experiences of meeting in homes back in those early days, which I call the Orlando Jesus Revolution of the early 1970s.
Early Home Church Experiences
Getting started with food. Food was important as an early icebreaker, especially for people new to the group. People with food hung out in kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, and outside patios getting to know each other. If some didn’t want to talk, they could just sit, eat, and listen.
Cleaning up, setting up (and tearing down). Everyone eventually learned how everyone else’s house worked and how to take a kind of ownership of the place. By participating, I learned to follow the lead of more mature believers in actively looking for jobs to do and then doing them—and then getting the teenagers and younger kids involved, of course!
Guitars and copied song lyrics. A guitar always leaned in the corner of the living room, and usually, someone there knew how to strum it on some level. A stack of worn-out stapled copies of hymns and popular choruses (Gaither music!) was a necessity. It was there that I learned to “sing” by moving my mouth in sync with the guy sitting next to me who could really sing.
Extra Bibles of various translations. Back then, having different translations was new. Discovering Tyndale’s The Living Bible was enlightening as were the Amplified Bible and the JB Phillips New Testament. Used Bibles and books were available on loan or give-away to visitors and new believers.
Personal testimonies and transparency. I loved hearing personal testimonies of God’s working in others’ lives for salvation, answers to prayer, and dealing with personal struggles. That was where a sensitive, mature leader was necessary to set time limits and gently guide those who were sharing sometimes personal subject matter.
Special guests. We were frequently blessed by guests from various ministries and missionary organizations who shared with us God’s working in the community and around the world. We “adopted” a Campus Crusade for Christ staffer from Finland, Kahlevi Lehtinen. He and his family blessed us time and time again with testimonies and biblical insights.
Helping others. Getting a handle on the special needs of the community at large and the local body of Christ was an important part of the ministry. Then we had opportunities to participate together in being a part of God’s outreach to others.
Something not done: communion. We never administered communion, the Lord’s Supper, in our home settings, maybe because the leadership viewed that as an official function of the church involving a more institutionalized setting. I would love, however, to do this more often in the informal setting of a house church.
These are some of the experiences I had in house churches over 40 years ago. Now, in 2015, we attenders of Wednesday night Bible study at Northland are challenged to be part of another revolution inspired by our leader Robert Johnson and his wonderful, eclectic family. We will be forming ourselves—or we will be allowing God to form us—into a new house church, an extension of Northland: Abel House.
Our experiences will likely be different, but I’m excited. I feel that God is bringing us back to the roots of the early church, back to barns, raggedy sheets of praise music, and heartfelt testimonies. Folks, I’m more than ready for another revolution, and I think Jesus is, too.