As Jesus People USA (JPUSA) approaches its 40th anniversary in 2012, this holdover from the 1970s Jesus Movement has seen many changes. Senior members of this intentional Christian community readily admit JPUSA has made mistakes along the way, but the organization is flourishing today, with nonprofit businesses and a dozen outreach ministries.
When the ragtag band of hippies started living together in Milwaukee in 1971, part of the group went on an evangelism tour through the Midwest and South. After an unsuccessful year in Gainesville, Florida (the local partyers didn't like their message and the conservative church folks didn't like their long hair), JPUSA moved to Chicago and has been there since. In 1989 Jesus People USA became an Evangelical Covenant Church and holds worship services every Sunday morning, open to the public.
Not Sparing the Rod
According to the group's history on its website, problems started about 1974 when one of JPUSA's married elders became obsessed with a young single woman in the group. Other members confronted him, but he failed to repent. Finally the group sent him to a counseling center for fallen pastors. He left JPUSA, moving west.
In the vacuum of that elder's absence, JPUSA latched onto an older minister who headed a local Christian community. He began to teach classes at JPUSA, but one of his ideas involved a strange practice: adult spankings with a thin wooden rod. Amazingly, the spankings continued for years, until Jesus People USA elders finally put an end to them. Today the group calls the episode "embarrassing" and blames it on their "spiritual immaturity" at the time.
JPUSA Self-Supporting Businesses
About 1975, JPUSA started some businesses to sustain the community. From painting and home repairs, the group expanded to typesetting, a moving company, carpentry, roofing, porch and deck business, and a roofing supply outlet.
Today, Jesus People USA businesses include:
- Belly Acres Design (screen printing)
- Citizen Skate Cafe (food and skateboarding supplies)
- Grrr Records (an independent record/CD label)
- Lakefront Roofing and Siding Supply
- Riverview Self-Storage
- Cornerstone Designs (graphic design and web development)
- Cornerstone Press (book publishing)
- Cornerstone Festival (annual music and arts festival)
JPUSA members who work in these businesses learn a trade and contribute to the community but are not employees. All earnings go into a common pool. While Jesus People USA is a nonprofit organization exempt from taxes, the group allocates money to members to pay their individual income taxes. Members must requisition cash for personal needs not furnished by the community.
Daily Life at JPUSA
New members must be 18 years old and born-again Christians. They serve a trial period, then decide if they want to join. Single people share a dormitory style room with another member of the same sex. Married couples have their own private room. Infant children may stay in their room or another room close by, depending on the parents' choice.
The community furnishes three meals a day. JPUSA does not provide health insurance. Members typically use public facilities at Cook County Hospital and city health clinics. Members are not required to donate any assets, and vehicles are shared in common.
At first, members do in-house chores, such as cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, and maintaining buildings. Later they are moved into the businesses. Members also work in the ministries to senior citizens, the homeless, and children. Evangelism continues to be a major part of JPUSA.
While most other Christian communes have long since disbanded, Jesus People USA continues in its mission to serve others and spread the gospel, calling itself a "work in progress."