New podcast on 'cults' dives into Dwell, Columbus church formerly known as Xenos

Columbus Dispatch/October 31, 2023

By Peter Gill

A popular podcast series has released new episodes about Dwell, formerly known as Xenos Christian Fellowship, the Columbus-centered non-denominational evangelical church.

Dwell has been the subject of extensive reporting by The Dispatch and other media outlets, with many former members accusing the church of controlling and manipulative behavior — though others are supportive.

“Let’s Talk About Sects" is a podcast “about cults around the world," according to its Australia-based host Sarah Steel, who has been featured by The New York Times and written up in the Sydney Morning Herald. The podcast has been around since 2017 and has 70 episodes. Steel lists The Dispatch among her sources for the two new episodes, each about an hour long, which feature interviews with former Dwell member Jessica McNulty, who grew up in the church.

"It's devastating to me the internal wounds that people are coming out with, that are lifelong," says McNulty in the podcast.

In a video response, Ryan Lowery, a senior pastor and senior sphere leader with Dwell, said, "The podcast featured people who exaggerated their roles in our church. Sadly, it's full of distortions, inaccuracies and even some lies."

What is Dwell’s history in Columbus?

Xenos was founded in the 1970s by two Ohio State University students, Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmut. The two started the church in their campus house after they began to feel called to teach others about the Bible. Today, the church is headquartered on Columbus’ Northeast Side.

Dwell operates a network of home churches, which meet throughout the week. According to its website, there are scores of Dwell home churches in Greater Columbus today.

College students and other unmarried young adults live in “ministry houses" that they’re encouraged to rent in groups near the Ohio State campus.

When the church first began, many referred to it as "Fish House." It changed its name to Xenos decades ago, and then to Dwell in 2020.

Why is Dwell controversial?

Church-teaching pastors have said that its principles are based on a “common-sense” reading of the Bible, with a focus on certain “one another” passages that speak to relationships and community.

But some former members have alleged that church membership is an all-consuming endeavor, causing them to become estranged from family members. The church has reportedly monitored members’ internet usage and other behavior. Some have accused the church of “brainwashing.”

“They call themselves, publicly, a ‘high commitment’ church. Those of us who have left would say it's a high control church, but they've tried to rebrand that as a high commitment church,” McNulty, the former member, says on the podcast.

"It grieves us that some have been unhappy with their experience at our church. While I cannot agree with what they say, I believe their pain is real," said Lowery.

What stories has The Dispatch published about Dwell/ Xenos?

The Dispatch has published a number of stories mentioning Dwell/ Xenos from the 1980s onwards. Many of the early articles focused on members' service work. A pair of articles about the church from 1983, titled "Fish House followers come from all faiths" and "Ministers question strict principles," discussed both the appeal and criticisms of the church.

According to the church's website, after those articles were published, "Xenos elders got feedback from the network and from area pastors before launching an internal inventory that uncovered a number of incidents involving cult-like behavior" which were later rectified through reforms.

A 1984 article in Columbus Monthly (then an independent magazine, now The Dispatch's sister publication) discussed Xenos as well as a number of other evangelical churches proliferating on OSU's campus.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here