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.