Jon Courson says he's come a long way since he ventured into the Applegate, Bible in hand, in 1977 to preach to a rag-tag bundle of hippies.

Jon Courson says he's come a long way since he ventured into the Applegate, Bible in hand, in 1977 to preach to a rag-tag bundle of hippies.

"Thinking back on it now, I had no idea what was going to come from preaching to all those young hippies who were looking to be saved, baptized and born again," Courson said. "We didn't have any idea that this would become a big church. The largest we ever thought it would get was around 100 people. We had a stated goal of keeping it an intimate fellowship."

These early Bible-sharing sessions eventually grew into the Applegate Christian Fellowship, which is by far the largest church in Southern Oregon.

Courson oversaw the rapid expansion of the church through the 1980s and '90s, a time when the church exploded in size and scope.

The church boasts a weekly attendance of approximately 3,000 worshippers, and 60 branch churches have sprung up across the Pacific Northwest and California, Courson said.

"It's a pretty full schedule," said the 60-year-old Courson.

The church's home base remains in Jacksonville, Courson said.

"We still love it here," he said.

The church's property in Jacksonville covers several acres and is centered around an open-air amphitheater that can hold thousands of worshippers.

There also is a bookstore and coffee shop for social gatherings, as well as mountaintop retreats.

Courson said he doesn't plan to slow down as he moves toward retirement age. He travels across the West speaking at retreats and other religion-based engagements.

In addition, he and his family run a radio station called Searchlight. These stations are broadcast across the country.

Courson said the church has embraced social media though Facebook and podcasts.

"We believe in spreading the word any way you can," Courson said.

Courson said his son Ben Courson does a large part of the heavy day-to-day lifting at the fellowship.

"I enjoy speaking to smaller groups these days," Courson said.

Courson said one of his favorite services these days is a weekly course in which he preaches from the Bible page by page, from front to back. This service is held on Wednesday.

"I start from the beginning and go straight through to Revelations," Courson said.

His other son, Peter-John Courson, is pastoring at Capo Beach Church in Southern California, Courson said.

"I really wanted them to make the church their own, and that's exactly what they are doing," Courson said.

Courson himself moved to Southern California in 2002 to pastor at the Capo Beach Church, but he eventfully returned to Southern Oregon.

"I'm enjoying what I do now," Courson said. "It's not work to me."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or