This article is from Issue 50: Mar/Apr 2011

The Making of a Movement

The story of Jesus Culture

Jesus Culture’s multiple albums, numerous conferences and viral international impact is the result of a few ordinary teenagers and twentysomethings with one very simple motivation: to encounter God’s presence.

This should be no surprise; the explosive combination of raw passion and youthful idealism seems to be the genetic makeup of movements throughout the years. Jesus Himself chose average young people to lead His ministry—outcasts that society had given up on, headstrong kids brimming with unrefined passion and energy. Following suit is Jesus Culture, an international movement incubating revival among count- less thousands through its unique worship experiences.

In 1999, the thought came to Bethel Church youth pastor Banning Liebscher to put on a small youth conference for their community in Redding, Calif. At a time when phrases like “subculture” and “counterculture” were becoming popular catch-phrases in many churches, Liebscher and his leaders (including worship leaders Kim Walker-Smith and Chris Quilala) desired a generation whose culture didn’t reflect an institution, music style, bracelet or T-shirt, but rather the attitude and posture of Christ Himself. They named the conference Jesus Culture, with the hope that God would show up, worship would transform and revival would begin.

"We want this generation to be Jesus to those right in front of them." —Chris Quilala

Over the next several years, Liebscher and his band witnessed the growth of a movement that surpassed their expectations. In 2005, the group came up with enough funds to record a CD, hoping album sales would allow them to do a conference on the east coast. “We didn’t even know if the CD would sell,” Liebscher says. “We had no idea what we were doing at all, but we felt God was telling us to share what He was stirring in our community with an entire generation.”

Liebscher didn’t know it, but Jesus Culture was about to become an internationally recognized movement. And it would happen through YouTube.

Many people’s initial encounter with Jesus Culture came through a YouTube video featuring worship leader Kim Walker-Smith performing John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves Us” at a conference. The video now has more than 3 million views.

“We didn’t even stick that up,” Liebscher says. “Some kid put that up. We didn’t even have the idea. None of us even knew about it until someone finally got a hold of us and told us it had gotten 250,000 plays.”