Former ‘Dwell Community Church’ Members Put up Billboard Warning About Their Abusive, Controlling Church

Former members of an Ohio church put up a billboard in their city warning passerby’s not to attend Dwell Community Church, claiming the church has behaved in a spiritually abusive, controlling, and cultish way and should be avoided at all cost.

The billboard in question reads “Stuck in Dwell Community Church? There is hope” and includes a website and QR Code linking to leavingdwell.co. Here, the website reassures inquisitive visitors that “There Is Life After Leaving Dwell Community Church” while containing a couple of stories from former members who tell their departing tales.

Two of the account include:

“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.”

and

I attended Dwell (formerly 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.”

“What makes the 4000-member* Dwell unique is their church structure, which is modeled after the cell church system. Rather than the traditional structure of the body all gathering in one palace on the Lord’s day for teaching , worship, communion, fellowship,etc, they break up everything into Central Teachings, Home Churches, and Church Houses.

Central Teachings are a weekly gathering of the whole body at several large locations. By their own definition:

Central Teachings are similar to Ted Talks, except that after the speaker presents, the floor is opened for questions, comments, or critique from the crowd. People like Central Teachings because they provide the opportunity to hear the Bible explained in normal language. These are not worship services–no singing, just Bible teaching, discussion, and prayer.

Then there are Home Churches, with Dwell having nearly 300* of these peppered across the state. These are little congregations of sorts that have between 12-60 members, led by a team of leaders. Unlike small groups or traditional cell churches, which are frequently not viable or led by poorly trained leaders, Home Church leaders have lots of training:

Typical home church leaders have spent 3 to 6 years serving in a home church while being mentored and coached by more experienced leaders before leading their own group. The central leadership (elders and staff) assist the home churches’ leadership development program with a series of classes. Our classroom leadership training takes a minimum of two years to complete, and consists of 70 graded classroom sessions, each of 3 hours, with homework and tests…Finally, because home churches are larger and constitute more responsibility than cell groups, each home church is led by a team of leaders, rather than a single person or couple.

Last are the Ministry Houses, where single men or single women live together in house. They pay rent and have jobs or go to school, but the understanding is that these houses have a purposeful mindset to serve as a staging ground to do ministry from.

Dwell encourages people to live in community, and many singles in the church have decided to do so by renting houses together. These houses are called ministry houses….In a ministry house, singles can develop a spiritual base that will last a lifetime, while serving the local church….For these reasons, members need to understand that ministry houses are not rooming houses because ministry houses have added expectations. A ministry house is more like a sports team. If you were recruited to a sports team, it would be because of the contribution you could make to the team. As such housemates must:

-Regularly attend the appropriate home church, Central Teaching, and discipleship group as a regular diet of body life

-Accept and initiate loving involvement with other roommates. Ministry houses are not for private living away from others. These houses are intended to promote interpersonal involvement.

-Be diligent to find and practice appropriate ministry roles in the local church.

-Practice hospitality as part of a team, when the house hosts events.

Dwell pastors have responded to the website and news of the billboard, with Executive pastor Brian Adams lamenting:

We’re heartbroken, right, that there are people that have had a poor experience in our church…Our hope is ultimately just that, if the experience at Dwell is not what they were looking for, that they won’t abandon their faith, and we’ll be able to find a community that really fits what they’re looking for.”


*The church claimed 5000 members and 300 churches as of 2009. We don’t have any newer or updated information pas that.

h/t to Church Leaders

3 thoughts on “Former ‘Dwell Community Church’ Members Put up Billboard Warning About Their Abusive, Controlling Church

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  3. Sounds like an attempt at early-church biblical living, but like the early church and all other time periods, sinful people living together and advancing into leadership roles together will lead to disagreements and expectation differences. There are always bossy and opinionated people who are difficult to live with.

    All of these issues are likely why it is rare to see attempts to follow this sort of early church model.

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