A Different Kind of Church – Xenos Christian Fellowship

Recent conversations with some friends about home churches and ministry models caused me to revisit this post. I initially wrote about Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus Ohio on June 17, 2005. I have some reservations about how they “do” church. But I also think they have put into practice some innovative and intriguing ideas.

The structure and practices of Xenos look nothing like most traditional, mainline churches. It’s so different that it makes sense, seems like a good way to solve many common problems in churches, and is a little creepy – all at the same time. Of course, these are just observations based off words on a Web site. I have never gone and lived among the people of Xenos. But I just couldn’t resist writing about the things that make it distinct.

Xenos is kind of what happens when the house church movement smacks into a mega church and tries to get rid of the worst of each and keep the best. It started as a loose collection of home churches focused on youth ministry and has evolved into one of the largest home church ministries in the United States. But unlike many of the cell groups that have been tried as afterthoughts in many churches, home groups are the basis of Xenos. And it seems to be working according to the church’s Web site.

Here’s a list of Xenos’ distinctive approach to being a local church:
1.) Xenos insists on a high level of training for its home church leaders. Typically, they must go through 210 hours of training, personal mentorship, etc. Since these are mini-churches with most of the function of a typical church, the Xenos leadership believes the leaders of these fellowships should be well trained to handle whatever arises. A lack of training is one of the main reasons why many traditional cell groups do not work.
2.) Ministry Houses – These are rooming houses which are dedicated to discipleship and evangelism. These homes are filled mostly with young adults and others that do not have a family.
3.) No designated giving – Individual donors can’t determine where the money goes. Those decisions are decided by the elders and the Fiscal Support Team (FST), a group of more than 1,200 serious donors. The elders and FST meet once a year to plan and review budgets for the entire church.

The church is run by a board of elders. Some work full-time for the church. Others do not. They have all agreed to cap their income as a way to avoid materialism and avoid the entanglements of too much wealth. This requirement is not placed upon home group leaders or others, only elders. [This practice bordered on cult like behavior it seemed to me at first. But at I thought about it, Jesus told the rich man to sell everything. The early Church had everything in common. It was not odd for people to sell something for the benefit of the whole. Maybe they have a good idea about limiting elder income.]
4.) No large worship service. Worship is to be a way of life beyond just music. Xenos believes the best place for music worship is at the home group not the large church gatherings. Xenos charges home churches with the mission of corporate worship. Its large meetings are for teaching and for outreach to non-Christians. Some home churches worship in song, and some just worship in prayer. Celebrating communion and baptisms are also handled by home churches.
5.) Home group leaders handle all weddings, visitations and funerals. All staff and elders are required to be in a home group.
6.) All church discipline is handled by the home group with some oversight by the elders. All staff hiring is limited to members.
7.) Xenos has a three level structure with large group meeting, home church meetings and cell meetings. Non-believers are not allowed to attend cell meetings. These are for Christians only. The main purpose of the large church meetings is for teaching. Xenos has a strong emphasis on training with 500-800 members taking classes on introductory to graduate level subjects at any given quarter. It spends around 20% of its annual budget on training and classes for ministry preparation.
8.) Xenos has a strong urban ministry emphasis with most of the outreach staff having moved into the city to live among the poor.
9.)Mission focus on sending out targeted teams and not just individuals. Xenos leadership prays with missionaries to help determine where best to send them. It’s not a thing where the missionaries decide where to go solely on their own and ask for support.
10.)Over 50% of members are involved in discipleship relationships. Xenos tends to generate it own children’s teaching material and adult course content. There is no scripted ministry program for home church or cell group leaders. Each group is free to be led by the Spirit in how it runs its gatherings.
11.) Secular music is played at youth/student meetings. Students do expository Scripture teachings to large and small meetings. In most churches, students if they speak are nearly always told to give a personal testimony, tell a story or discuss a topic. Almost never will a student give expository Bible teaching. Xenos encourages and equips students to teach indepth. Students study hermeneutics, homiletics and discussion-leading in class. They also usually go over and even give the teaching to a mentor who can correct any shortcomings. Students learn their Bible better when they teach it, and they gain experience teaching and preaching. Later, when they take over their own groups, they will already have significant experience speaking in front of groups.
12.)Most top Xenos leadership is involved in youth ministry, which is viewed as the most not least important ministry in the church. Unlike some places where youth ministry is consider an entry-level position, senior leadership focuses time on youth ministry at Xenos.
13.) Most ministry teams initiated by individuals, not staff. This is good because paid personnel can only do so much. The people should do most of the work of the church not the paid staff.
14.) Xenos has a questions and answers time in its large corporate gatherings.
15.) Xenos has some “weird” views on confidentiality. While I can see some of the merits of its policy, I also believe that the right to privacy is important too because even the most graceful people can hold our past against us. I do find Xenos’ policies insightful and challenging to the status quo even if I think they are somewhat extreme.

Find out more about Xenos’ structure and methodology by visiting www.xenos.org.

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13 responses to “A Different Kind of Church – Xenos Christian Fellowship

  1. Abraham Alhassan

    Innocent I salute your valuable children of God, May his peace and bless abide with you forever.

    I am writing this message to your church to seek for support to overcome the challenges i am going through now in my Christian life. I know God is control and would never leave me nor forsake me. I need prayer support, counseling and anything that is Godly to enable win the battle at hand.

    I am a Christian from Muslim background in the northern part of Ghana. I graduated from the university and had been working for the pass four years where i exhibited my Christian values to the later. But working in typical Muslim communities had landed me in a big blackmailing problem. I had been blackmailed for stealing $182,000 from the company.
    I was arrest by the police and place in prisons remand for three months for a sin i did not commit before i we given court bail. Even that it took God’s intervention.
    The case is now in Wa circuit court for trial. My Lawyer is doing all his possible best for me to win the case, but the company has gone to pay huge money to the Judge to circumvent justice and jail me because they knew i am innocent. At court the way the judge behaves leaves much to be desired.
    My lawyer had informed me that the way the judge is handling the case i should prepaare for an appeal.

    I cannot finance an appeal on this case because i have run out of funds and even for the past six months i have not been able to afford food for my family, could not pay rent and school fees and utility bills. Life is now very difficult for me and my family.

    It my prayer in the Mighty Name of Jesus that this case shall not go beyond this level because the blood of Jesus that speaks better thing than the blood of Abel will speak for me.. I am pleading with you, fellow believers and brothers and sisters in Christ to assist us in prayer and in any kind of support that God may lay on your heart.

    One thing i believe is that, i shall not die but live to show forth God’s glory and in the mist of my enemies my cup would run over. And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death i will fear no evil for God is with me.

    My contact phone #: 0233244823338

    My The Good Lord bless your richly as you support us in these times of difficulties.

    Stay Blessed

    Jesus Name

  2. andrews Boakye
    box 27
    askakra_kwahu
    eastern region
    GHANA
    Dear In Christ,
    Greetings of love to you in the name of our Master and Lord
    Jesus , Who died to cleanse us from all our sins.
    To introduce myself , I am ANDREWS BOAKYE and a young
    Christian. I have no Bible and I want to please request you to
    send me a Study Bible. There is always sadness in my heart to
    go to church without a Bible ,. and when it is time to read
    a passage from the Bible I only become a spectator. The
    worst part of it is that I cannot devotionally read the words
    of God daily at the comfort of my home.This has affected my
    Christian life in the negative way.
    Please, I need you to help me out of this situation. I am
    begging you to send me a Study Bible.
    Please remember me in your daily prayers. I want to end here
    with much greetings.

  3. Hey I go to Xenos in northeast Ohio (the columbus site planted some more). Interesting blog–I’m gonna read whatever parts of your book are available online. I can guarantee from personal experience that xenos is a different kind of church.

    • Joel – What has been your experience at Xenos ? It seems that their model of church is working, just by how it has grown over 25 years or more, but how have the home church or community groups failed and had success there ? You left a post on this in 2008 — this site:

      http://organicfaith.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/a-different-kind-of-church-xenos-christian-fellowship/

      My wife and I are in a church plant in Virginia, and the pastor has a vision very similar to this. To me, it is very biblical, moreso than most mainline churches who let the traditions of men cause divisions of clergy and laity, and have a model of the church is found in a building – like a big salt block that everyone’s supposed to come to– something that may have worked 100 years ago, but in today’s postmodern unchurched world is in great decline. Just curious what your experience at Xenos Christian Fellowship is or was.. We are planning to attend their Summer Institute in July about multiplication through church planting, community or home churches, and discipling.

      Bob
      you can email me at: hearitwell@embarqmail.com

  4. Hi there!
    As someone who has been involved in Xenos, Columbus for 12 years now, I just wanted to thank you for this article. It is REALLY interesting to see how someone who knows us only from our website would evaluate our church. It’s really valuable to get that kind of perspective. Obviously we know what our own perspective is. We can’t get outside of that any other way than to hear from someone who is outside of it.

    I only wanted to add details to one item you mentioned. In order to be a member of the FST (Fiscal Support Team), and be able to vote every year on where your $ goes – you only have to be a person who gives 5% of your income to the church. That is why the FST is so large. It is full of average people who attend the church and are committed to supporting it’s purposes.
    That is just one of the many reasons we’ve learned to trust Xenos over the years. The way they handle $.
    As a side note – Xenos’s financial books are open to the public. Anyone can come in and view the books for themselves.

    Thanks again for taking the time to provide your perspective.

    Until we see Chirst,
    The Baldridges

  5. Having been a member of a mega church for years, then moving home churches for a few years, I attended Xenos for just over a year. I like the idea of what they put together, but I believe they have missed it in practice.

    I have found that the people there live exclusively for the church, while an interesting idea, I have not been able to spend more than 15 minutes with people outside of church activities. So I have never had a chance to get to know them, with no lack of effort on my part.

    The meetings are very structured (yes differently from a normal church, but structured none the less) , I remember specifically a (smaller cell) meeting in which one of the leaders actually became very upset at a line of questions because they were not in the “guide book” they were teaching from. And those questions were very “on topic”… just not in the line of the structure.

    I also found it disturbing that there are no older people in the groups no “mentors” or people who have “been there”, it seems to me (possibly just my experience) that it is all peers teaching peers… and while that can be good, some wisdom and experience are very valuable.

    Well not trying to boo the Xenos church, it isn’t for me. It does have it’s place, and does seem to minister to a lot of people, just not me.

    Just my opinion take it for what it is worth.

    • Hello sir,
      I have attended Xenos for roughly six months, and still do. I believe that you may have missed out on a few things we offer. We offer, especially for the youth, teachings for younger christians by elders. Typically, we are tought by the same leader, with one or two guest teachers a month. The teachers are usually college aage or adults in the twenty-thirty range for high school students. This benefits us more because we are more likely to form a relationship with them because we are closer to them in age. Also, I believe we do not live for the church, though without us a church is just a building, we live for THE WORK OF THE CHURCH, that God has given to us through our prayers and the Holy spirit.
      Perhaps you were not attending the Central teachings, and only cell or home group???
      As for the issue of the guide book, i believe that was something strictly to that section or area of Xenos, my area has no such thing.

  6. Hi,

    I am also a member of xenos and I just wanted to say to Matt, if he still reads this, that I am sorry for his bad experience and that if he ever wanted to come back he should look into other groups.

    In my group, for example, we have 5 leaders who have all “been there” but are still relatable. and within my group I probably hang out with members 2-4 times a week outside of home church, prayer/cell, or main group. And our teachers are more than willing to go off topic with questions if someone is really interested.

    What I am trying to say is, at Xenos we are comprised of multiple small home churches and no two are exactly the same. This can give everyone a chance to find a group that suits them but it also means that if you go out to a group that doesn’t suit you you can have a bad experience.

  7. hi i enjoy dennis mccallums lectures on youtube. can i purchace them on dvd.

  8. Hello! I am a youth member of Xenos, I think the structure is better as well as getting students to learn because they are less intimidated with the atmosphere. We are also on close terms with our leaders, even the ones who do not discipke us. I enjoy attending Xenos, even though I have only been there for 6 months. I encourage you all to come out to Xenos. WE have great teachings on the bible and fantastic fellowsip

  9. Having attended Fish house (rebranded Xenos) for over 7 years I can shed some detail to Matt’s comments that don’t seem to be addressed fully by current member’s posts. With central teachings, home and cell group meeting, workers meetings, classes, discipleship one on ones it is easy to spend 12-14 hrs a week in what Matt called “living exclusively for the church.” If you just attend one of the central teachings you will be closer to the typical evangelical church experience from a time investment standpoint. However once in a home group you will be “encouraged” to attend all of the aforementioned events. If you miss one or two in a row your cell, home group and even sphere group leaders will all mysteriously show up on the same day questioning how serous you are about your relationship with God. Once in a home group expect that the Leander’s have a plan for your development and are discussing you by name with at least a half-dozen other people on a regular basis. Think of this more like a monastic experience and it will start to make sense. Great orthodox teaching. Great people but manipulative and controlling behavior will appear quickly if you are not a complete conformist (future Xenos leader)! And the covert nature of this manipulation disappears as you move up the leadership ranks!

  10. More details on the conformity and manipulation I mentioned above. In the book Take Back your Life (cult recovery) they gave a list of cult-like behavior. I have listed the ones that applied to Xenos:

    * excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader (for example, always deferring to the senior pastor’s interpretation of Scripture;
    considering the pastor’s personal preference as spiritual mandate)

    * questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished (“sowing disunity” is code for silencing, being called into meetings to discuss disloyalty)

    * leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (ie. mostly dating and free time activities, yes Xenos tried to match me with several women saying have you ever thought about dating so and so, and asking me why I wasn’t at a Xenos sponsored party instead of seeing a movie with some friends)

    * group is elitist, claiming special, exalted status for itself (creating us vs. them mentality; “the lost” vs. “us who have the FULLNESS of truth”)

    * leadership induces feelings of shame in order to influence and control members–often done through peer pressure or subtle forms of persuasion (assigned an “accountability partner” who reports on you; lots of ‘checking-in’; enforcing unwritten rules, policing tone of voice, facial expressions)
    preoccupied with bringing in new members (turn every opportunity into an outreach! that person you sit next to on the airplane might die tomorrow–better preach the Gospel to her!)

    * members expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities (meetings, meetings, meetings!)
    members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members (Scripture verses are used to warn against the corrupting influence of outside friends)

    * the most loyal members (“true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group (leaving the church is same as leaving God)

    Xenos is not a cult, but has enormous maturity issues in leadership and this stems from Dennis. Enjoy his excellent teaching from afar on YouTube. But Xenos is not for the weak-willed. If you join you will be manipulated by dozens of paternalistic leaders at cell, home group level. Ministry houses see even more manipulation.

    Also I have had two friends leave Xenos in the last month due to behaviors listed above (one had survived there for 28 years but is very passive and always complained about how his home group leaders gossiped about him).
    This leads me to conclude that nothing has changed.

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