The founder of the Applegate Christian Fellowship has returned after a three-year absence during which membership declined as affiliate churches formed in Grants Pass and Medford.

Pastor Jon Courson, 52, will join his 29-year-old son, Peter-John, who has been the senior pastor at the popular church in Ruch that formerly numbered about 5,000 members.

Jon Courson returned earlier this month. He has this vision for this ministry, and he's very excited about it, said Joe Stroble, facilities manager at the fellowship. He's excited to see what the Lord's going to do here.

Courson, who will live with his wife, Tammy, at the fellowship, helped start the church in 1977, then announced in 2002 he would become a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Calif.

He had planned to have a pastor training school in Mexico, but said on the fellowship Web site he will now be teaching his students in the Applegate.
— Courson said he just finished his first school in January. Speaking about his former pupils on the Web site, he said, I do believe these guys are being raised up to be an impacting part of a new and true revival in these last days.

In just the past four months, two other churches have formed that drew members from the Applegate fellowship, Stroble said. They are Edgewater Christian Fellowship in Grants Pass and Mountain Christian Fellowship in Medford, which opened in January.

With its membership in the thousands, the Applegate Christian Fellowship has been Southern Oregon's largest church, drawing crowds on Sundays that packed roads to the rural site in the Applegate Valley and sometimes put it at odds with neighbors. The church recently settled a dispute with those neighbors and the county over work that had been done without proper permits.

Peter-John Courson also put the church in the news when he told the Medford School Board in November that he would pull his children from the public schools ' and encourage church members to do the same ' if a new sex education curriculum were approved. The board later approved the curriculum with some minor modifications.

Jon Courson will work with Peter-John, as well as his son-in-law, 25-year-old Seth Gilbert, and youngest son, 18-year-old Benjamin Courson, Stroble said.

The four of us will be teaming up (along with an excellent group of assisting pastors) to 'do church' in a most, I truly believe, fresh and ever-deepening way, Jon Courson said on the Web site. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Medford resident David Leyva Jr. said he's attended the church for three years, and he's excited about the change.

He's ready to do something different, and I like it, he said.

Leyva said Jon Courson does have a charismatic character, but he said he also strongly supports the work Peter-John Courson has done.

Some different approaches that have already appealed to Leyva include singing scriptures and gathering in circles to pray.

He said some church members have expressed concern over the years about Peter-John's youth, but he didn't think it was significant.

Leyva said more than a third of the members have left to join two other churches, but added the fellowship isn't concerned about how many members it has as long as the work is getting done.

Even with fewer members, Leyva said, It's a good strong church.

Stroble said the church has lost membership, but added, We have never focused on members. He said he doesn't know how many members go to the church.

Ruch resident Tim Mangin, who has worked personally with Jon Courson, welcomes the father's return.

He's bringing a wind of change back to the church, he said. He's challenging the church body to grow deeper.

He said both pastors bring different styles, describing Jon Courson as a strong teacher, and Peter-John Courson as a pastor who offers encouragement and helps others to go out and serve.

As to declining membership, Mangin said Jon Courson told the congregation recently that it wasn't a numbers game.

Mangin said he is more concerned about the message he receives at the church than the number of members.

For me personally, it has re-energized me, he said.

First Pastor Courson returns to Applegate"