Xenos changing name to Dwell, but rebranding doesn’t quiet church critics

The Columbus Dispatch/February 10, 2020

By Maeve Walsh

Xenos Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational Evangelical church, says it is changing its name to “Dwell” to avoid confusion and more accurately reflect the church’s values. Yet critics say the name change is merely a way for the church to distance itself from past allegations over its methods.

Xenos Christian Fellowship is rebranding with a name change, just in time for its 50th anniversary.

The nondenominational evangelical church is taking on the name Dwell because of its simplicity and emphasis on the church’s mission, leaders said in a news release.

However, some former members say the name change is just a way for the church to distance itself from allegations that it is controlling and levels criticism on its members.

Church spokesman Keegan Hale said the name Xenos was a confusing term that did not effectively describe the church’s mission.

Dwell, in contrast, illustrates the church’s emphasis on fostering community with fellow members, he said.

“If you were to hear a name that you know — Dwell — it’s a little more intuitive and pairs well with Christian fellowship,” he said.

Originally called Fish House Fellowship when founded in 1970 by two Ohio State University students, the church now has about 5,000 members in the Columbus area, Hale said.

In 1982, the church adopted the name Xenos, which means “alien” or “stranger” in ancient Greek, to illustrate that heaven is a Christian’s true home, according to the release announcing the latest name change.

The church has contemplated a change for several years, Hale said, but the timing seemed right with the church celebrating 50 years this year. In addition, new generations have assumed leadership positions, he said.

“A central part of the church, Hale added, is home churches, where congregants gather for bible study at a fellow member’s home to foster community.

“Put simply, dwell means to live with or among, and that’s one of our emphases — is sharing life and community,” he said.

Dwell also means to ponder deeply, which illustrates how the church reflects on the teachings of the Bible, Hale said.

“It’s also just a word people know,” he said. “It’s not a weird Greek term that falls on deaf ears.”

But some former members say the name change is a way for the church to shed its negative image.

Gail Burkholder, who attended Xenos from 1983 to 2000, said she left the church after feeling “extreme dissatisfaction” with the way it tried to control her personal relationships.

Burkholder, 58, of the East Side, likened the name change to the adage about putting “lipstick on a pig.”

“You can change a name; it doesn’t change anything,” she said. “It’s surface — not qualitative — change.”

Joe Nelson, 50, of Worthington, described his involvement in Xenos from 1988 to 2006 as “death by bee stings” after experiencing what he called recurring mistreatment by church leadership.

Nelson said the name change is a way for the church to “save face” and distance itself from criticism about the way it operates.

“They need to actually change their attitude toward spiritual authority,” he said.

The church will be called Dwell for short, but its official name — Dwell, a ministry of Xenos Christian Fellowship — is a way to retain its historic significance while rebranding, Hale said.

“To claim that we’re escaping something when we’re deliberately holding on to the name doesn’t equate,” he said.

Pat Houston, 29, of the North Side, who has been a Xenos member for more than 25 years, said the church has helped him navigate through emotionally challenging times in his life.

Changing a name is not an effective way to avoid heat from critics, he said, and the name change will more accurately represent the church’s mission.

“I think Dwell fits better with what I’ve always felt is special about our church — good relationships and this idea of trying to dwell with God and live life with God,” he said.

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