The stories shared below are brief 2 minute reads on our experience in Xenos/Dwell and our lives after. You can read many other more detailed stories on the Xenos is a Cult website. There are 177 stories shared there that deserve to be heard and engaged with. But as the claim of anonymity is so often used as an avoidance tactic by Dwell, here at Leaving Dwell we would like to join with the many others who have spoken out both publicly and privately, and encourage Dwell leaders to acknowledge that we are real people who are not to be dismissed as merely disgruntled and unknowable assailants. We are available to talk if they would like to engage in a process of listening and repentance.
I came to Xenos in 1985 as a 19-year OSU student. In 1987 I went to Cincinnati to take part in a Xenos church plant and ultimately became a full time elder there. I embraced the idea that God had uniquely blessed this church with a mission like no other. I regret that as a leader I perpetuated a system that I now view as dysfunctional and harmful.
Xenos is characterized by a relentless pursuit of church replication, which requires a cadre of “highly committed” Christian leaders. To excel, your entire life must be committed to the cause. This means making every important decision, such as who to spend time with, what career to choose, and who to marry, based on Xenos’ agenda. It is also difficult, if not impossible, to form deep, long-lasting relationships in Xenos. If a home church is successful, you will be split from your relationships in a church plant. If a home church fails, you will be dissolved and lose relationships that way. To excel you must be willing to go to more meetings in a week than there are days, and in the end your worth and value are based on how well you can maintain the above lifestyle. It only became clear to me in my latter time in Xenos and after I left that most human beings cannot live, heal, thrive, excel, find comfort, and be happy in such an environment. Most people who darken the doors of Xenos will only remain for a limited time and it is not their fault!
In 2010, I was asked by my team of elders to resign my position as elder in Xenos Cincinnati because the church was not replicating at a rate that was expected. I continued to attend Xenos half-heartedly for some time after my resignation, but ultimately my wife and I decided to make a clean break as we were beginning to see the major cracks in the foundation of Xenos’ ideology. The initial stages of life after Xenos were a struggle. I felt depressed. I felt like I had spent a quarter of a century investing in something only to fail. However, as time went on, I began to heal. I realized this was one of the best things that happened to me. My only regret was that it did not happen sooner.
Since leaving Xenos, I have forgiven myself and have been able to reconcile with several people. I returned to my career “in the world” as a Social Worker. I began serving people in the community who had serious needs without an agenda on my part. These people retaught me that everyone has worth and value. My life was enriched by simply knowing them, not by whether they could help me achieve my goals. I also learned that I could develop healthy, enriching relationships with the people I worked with – again without a hidden agenda. Relationships that are not “superficial” and “foundationless” like I was taught would be the case outside of Xenos. Luckily, as well, I had the support of my wife and family who I realized I had neglected in the pursuit of doing “God’s work” more than I care to imagine. Now I can relax and enjoy spending time with them without worrying how “the ministry” is doing. I can be fully engaged and and not just physically present with an agenda crawling through my head, distracting me. My relationship with my family, though never perfect, is so much more fulfilling. And finally, I am free to enjoy whatever I want, whenever I want: traveling, friends, music, reading, sports, movies – without worrying if the activity is furthering some sort of ministry agenda. There really is life after Xenos!
I was a part of Xenos/Dwell from 1999-2007. I moved to Columbus to attend OSU and was looking for a church in the community. I moved into a ministry house after my freshman year and am thankful for the friendships I made there, many of which continue today. I lived in a ministry house for 5 years, was a leader in a college group, and then attended an adult home group for a year before leaving.
It was difficult to transition through normal life experiences while being in Xenos. There didn’t seem to be any legitimate way to move out of a ministry house, move away from Columbus, or stay involved in the church without being in leadership. After becoming a home church leader I felt the increased pressure put on us for growth and numbers. It trained us to view people as instrumental objects that were only worth your time if they were going to get saved and join the church. I found myself going against my own conscience to enact the sort of discipline that was expected of our group.
Following Xenos teaching we excommunicated a vulnerable person from our home church, a painful action I regret not rejecting at the time. Our home church did not experience fast enough growth or have enough leaders in the pipeline, and so we were dispersed to other groups. A year in the adult group taught me that the issues that are often attributed only to the college group are also in other parts of the church. I was discouraged from marrying my husband as it would cause me to be “unequally yoked”. After marrying it became clear that due to tensions related to ministry values (what if we just love people even if they don’t help us reach our growth quotas?) and their attempts to polarize my husband, there was no place for us in the church.
I felt a lot of shame and self doubt over leaving. We joined a different church where I was able to rest and heal, and serve in ways that respected my conscience and personality. I began to feel valued as someone who was loved by God and the community around me simply for being, rather than the work I could do. This sense of being loved and honored as a person led to a greater desire to serve, to return to pastoral ministry, and to do so freely and within healthy limits. It took a long time to trust, to not worry about gossip and judgment at every turn, and to recognize that even when I left “the church,” I did not leave God, and God never left me.
I attended Dwell Church (formerly Xenos) for almost two decades. It’s hard to believe they once embraced me. I never felt I fit their mold, and was unable to live up to their shifting standards, which changed with every transition in leadership. I felt like a misfit when shamed by gossip about my battles with mental health. I became circumspect of older adults who claimed to be mouthpieces of God. I feared leaving, and when I did, no one reached out and no one seemed to care.
During my years feeling pulled toward and pushed away from the fellowship, I self-medicated. Filled with shame, I often violated my standards for my own behavior faster than I could lower them. I purchased prescription pills at homegroup, which were bought during other members trips abroad, where prescriptions weren’t needed. I drank heavily with other group members. I knew I had to leave, but the thought was terrifying. As with many members, my entire life was the church. When I reflect on this time of my life, I see God carrying me through the ordeal. I got sober when I left, and I have stayed sober for the entire seven years since. I have countless friends who support me but have no desire to control me. Their support is unconditional and far outweighs what I found at Dwell.
I was once afraid to be exposed, or to be seen for who I was. Yet now my past is a resource, providing me with “credentials” to help other people live sober, productive lives. I never dreamed I could be the person I am today. Each day is an opportunity. I wake up clear-headed—not hungover from drinking and smoking with other Dwell members after Bible study. I take responsibility for my actions. I live a healthy life. I almost always follow the rules and pursue a life of rigorous honesty. The Church brought tension to family. They could see what I couldn’t. Our conflicts have dissolved with my new-found freedom. I have softened and become a better partner. Although work remains, I continue to heal as I share my story with others, including through my work here at Leavingdwell.com. If you fear leaving, I did too. If you joined Dwell thinking they could fulfill you or fix your defects, only to feel worse, we understand. We are so much more to God than I could have known in Dwell.
I attended Dwell (Xenos) for years and believed wholeheartedly in its mission as God’s specially chosen church right here in Columbus. I devoted myself fully to the ministry, attending teachings, classes, prayer meetings and outreach events nearly every day of the week. My life revolved around the church because I believed that’s what God was calling me to do. Yet the more I gave to the ministry house and the more I heeded the admonishment of my discipler, the more empty I felt inside. I wondered why God felt so far away when I spent all my time pursuing him.
Eventually, after several painful years, I realized being in the church was incompatible with my soul’s own vitality. I left the church and slowly began to rediscover myself, rebuild my relationships with my family, and learn that friends could love me for me – God didn’t actually expect me to spend all my time with people who judged me and picked me apart for every thought and action. I was also free to spend time doing the things I love to do, instead of feeling ashamed for them not being the “right” things that will help “get people saved.”
I’ve been married to a wonderful, loving man for 12 years and we have two amazing children. My life now would not be possible if I had stayed in the church. Leaving was painful but the life I have now is completely worth it. I understand now that God is pleased with me for the mere fact that I exist. I take joy in this profound fact and find permission and freedom to be me.
I joined Xenos in July 2012 and was kicked out in November 2016. As of March 2022, I am ready to share my story. I was heavily invested in Xenos for 4 years. I used to be considered an awesome person who was great at evangelism. I was getting trained to be a home church leader and was going to start teaching at my cell group as a first step. I was also discipling two women.
I was excommunicated for sexual sin when I was in a deep depression and trying to recover from a sexual assault the year before. My adult home church told me that I needed to hit rock bottom before my heart would change. I told the group that I wanted to repent and follow God, was at rock bottom, and needed help. They voted me out. I lost all my Xenos friends and had to move out of my ministry house. I ended up in a partial hospitalization program which helped me realize that I experienced religious abuse and should not try to go back.
It was during this program that I was able to piece together some of my struggles. I started being able to put the pieces together and start to heal. I decided that I could not go back to Xenos. I also decided to get back in contact with my ex-boyfriend who is now my husband. My boyfriend and I were able to pursue a healthier relationship once we were out of Xenos. We were even able to turn things around with avoiding sexual sin; I think this was due to a combination of being under less pressure and having support to work through the trauma that contributed to it. The additional trauma from Xenos certainly added struggles to our previous mental health diagnoses. It deeply damaged my faith in God, who had previously always been my rock when overcoming hardship. I was left questioning if God could really exist when people who fervently prayed to him could be so cruel to me when I begged for help.
I had multiple panic attacks a day for several months after my excommunication, which was a sharp increase in frequency and intensity. My boyfriend and I benefited from a post-cult support group in Vineyard Columbus before getting married, and I also worked through some painful memories with EMDR. I am still trying to recover.