ChurchLeaders.com [Wheaton, IL]
July 7, 2022
By Jesse T. Jackson
A group of former members of Dwell Community Church (formerly known as Xenos Christian Fellowship), a megachurch located in Columbus, Ohio, has purchased ad space on a billboard hoping to warn current attendees regarding abuse happening within the church.
The billboard is located along High Street in Clintonville, less than three miles from the church, and displays large bold neon green and white lettering that reads, “Stuck in Dwell Community Church? There is hope.” The message is followed by the website address leavingwell.com and a QR code, which directs to a page titled, “There Is Life After Dwell Community Church.”
“We who have left Dwell Community Church have shared similar fears,” the site reads. “We have feared that to leave Dwell would put us outside the will of God, that we would lose community and friends, that we would lose a life of meaning and purpose. But we have found hope in life outside of Dwell.”
Former Dwell Community Church members explain that “many of us have found communities and purpose and a deeper relationship with God. Others of us no longer pursue a Christian spiritual path but have experienced a deep sense of healing and self acceptance.” The former members say that the purpose of the site is to help others who are seeking to leave the church and provide them with resources to do so.
On the site, former members provide a section describing the spiritual abuse they and others experienced while attending the church. Stories from four former members are under a section labeled “Healing,” which also provides a link to recommended counseling services.
They also provide a list of other local churches, sharing that “finding a different church can feel very unsafe and unappealing after leaving Dwell, and many choose not to attend church after leaving. But many of us have also ended up in other local churches that we have found to be different and life giving.” The former members invite Dwell Community Church attendees to reach out to them, so they can help connect them with a new church.
One of the former members who helped with the creation of the billboard is Kate Heck, who left the church she attended from 1999 to 2007, because members didn’t approve of her marriage.
Heck shared with NBC4 Columbus, “It was uncomfortable to stay. I also had concerns about the way—the level of coercion within the church—and felt that I needed to leave at that point.” Heck said the group of former members has connected with “hundreds” of others who have also left because of spiritual trauma.
After a series of stories NBC4 Columbus ran earlier this year of former Dwell Community Church members speaking out regarding allegations of exploitation and emotional abuse, Heck said she was “disappointed by the response from the church and the leadership.”
“I think that when you hear stories of pain that people are sharing ways that they have been hurt,” Heck explained, “I think the appropriate response is to be curious about how and why, and to seek to make things right. Apologize. Find out what the systems are that are causing these pains so consistently. These stories span decades. They’re not just one-offs.”
Heck shared that she is thankful she has found a place where she can now rest and “receive the love of God that wasn’t dependent upon what I did, and how I worked, and how many people I brought to church.”
“I know that there are wonderful people [currently at Dwell Community Church] that don’t understand why their church is being criticized, and want to just follow God. And they love their community and, at some point in time, will experience these same kinds of pain,” she told WCMH.
Kari Puchovich, another former Dwell Community Church member behind the billboard (1996-2014), told the local news agency she left the church so she could battle her addiction with alcohol. Puchovich shared that there was an abundance of alcohol at church affiliated bible studies, which made it difficult for someone with addiction.
“I was a mess, and this wasn’t the place where I was going to get any help. And I needed to leave to get actual help,” Puchovich explained.
Puchovich read the NBC4 Columbus reports while she was taking care of her dying mother and was reminded of the wedge it created between their relationship while she attended there for nearly 20 years. “That narrative of, ‘You’re either with us or against us’ is so damaging for people. And so it really just jumpstarted me to ask people for funds, to get an LLC started and have a billboard,” she said.
15 minutes after posting a GoFundMe link for their billboard, Puchovich’s goal was met.
Dwell Community Church’s senior pastor and senior sphere leader, Conrad Hilario, told NBC4 Columbus in a statement that the church treats “claims of abuse very seriously. We are not a perfect church, but we do have many safeguards to protect members from potentially harmful leaders.”
“When a member has a specific complaint against a leader, they can contact one of the elders or bring their complaint to a grievance board,” Hilario shared.
Some Call the Church Formerly Known as Xenos Christian Fellowship a Cult
Another site similar to the one featured on the billboard, titled “Xenos is a Cult,” has over 170 stories from former Dwell Community Church congregants and people associated with church attendees. The site includes a disclaimer: “Content Warning: These submitted stories are graphic, detail disturbing content, and contain strong language.”
“Xenos Christian Fellowship has been operating in Columbus, Ohio since 1970 and has been causing massive trauma to countless people,” the site says. “This website contains over 700+ accounts of people claiming abuse at Xenos, many which involve the complete destruction of personal mental health, spiritual abuse, and the loss of happiness and emotional stability.”
Dwell Community Church student ministries executive pastor Brian Adams said that members are free to leave at any time, and “we have many members who are willingly, joyfully following Jesus here in our community, but our members know that they’re free to leave at any time, if that’s what they’d like to do.”
“We’re heartbroken, right, that there are people that have had a poor experience in our church,” Adams continued. “And 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.”
NBC4 Columbus’ Jamie Ostroff asked Adams whether he believed the problems at Dwell Community Church were systemic in nature.
“No, I would say that we continually are evaluating, we’re continually growing, and I believe that we have made several great changes and ways that we have grown as a church,” Adams responded, providing a “Proactive Upgrades in Student Ministry” guide that the church has updated.
According to NBC4 Columbus, most of the negative allegations have come from the ministry Adams oversees, including the college ministry hosted at the nearly 60,000-student Ohio State University.
ChurchLeaders has reached out to Dwell Community Church for comment.