Look up Xenos in your
handy-dandy Greek dictionary and you will find translations such as "stranger"
and "foreigner." "Weird" might not be too far off.
Visit the Xenos website
www.xenos.org and you will find a
church that is, well, strange. They even have a section on their web
with the heading, "Strange things at Xenos." Funny thing is, that
page includes just about everything you can imagine. It would be a
far shorter page if it had the heading, "Normal things at Xenos," or
"Things at Xenos that are like just about every other church."
Yet, with all their
strangeness, they are soundly biblical and extremely effective. Oh,
that we had a nation full of strange churches like Xenos. And, what
do I love about Xenos? They are deeply committed to doubling groups.
Maybe not every two years or less, but at least every three years or
"Home churches," are the backbone of Xenos
home group ministry. These groups usually range from 15-60
people who meet for fellowship and Bible teaching. Home churches
are also open to non-Christian neighbors and friends, and are a
major entry point for new people into the church. Each home
church also has a discipleship program involving men's and
women's groups and supervised ministry experience, usually
combined with some one-on-one mentoring. By the end of a typical
three-year cycle, the leadership team of a given home church
tries to have a new leadership team in place, along with new
members and discipleship groups. When everything is ready, the
group has a harvest meeting where testimonies are shared, and
the group divides to plant a new home church.
This vision grew naturally
out of Xenos' early history. It was started by two ex-atheist
hippies who came to faith in Christ during the Jesus movement era of
the late sixties and early 70s.
In 1970, some Ohio State University students, including
future lead pastor,
began printing an underground newspaper in the basement of their
rooming house, a practice that was popular among students in
those days. But theirs was no ordinary underground newspaper.
The Fish derived its name from the Greek word for "fish,"
Icthus, which was also an acronym used by early Christians
meaning "Jesus Christ, God's Son, the Savior." The Fish
was dedicated to helping other students discover that Jesus
Christ holds the key for humanity's problems.
rooming house on East 16th Avenue was no ordinary student house
either. Known as "The Fish House" because of its association
with the paper, it became a center for regular Bible studies.
These meetings, referred to as "The Fish House Fellowship"
attracted students searching for answers during turbulent times.
Future co-lead pastor,
moved into the house in 1971.
The Fish newspaper has long since vanished, but today
the Bible studies it spawned are flourishing. The old Fish House
Fellowship, which adopted the name "Xenos Christian Fellowship"
in 1982, has grown into an interdenominational, evangelical
church that, as of 2004, includes more than 4,500 people from
all walks of life.
(The church would actually
be much bigger if they had not lost about a third of their
membership--dropping 1400 in attendance--back in the early 90s.)
Out of this hippie,
anti-establishment background, Xenos formed a successful ministry
that is not like any other ministry I am aware of. You can read all
about it on their web page if you like--it is the most thorough church
web page I Have ever seen--but here are a few highlights:
Home group leadership requirements far higher than normal.
How churches manage to train competent leaders during a one-
to eight-week training program is a complete mystery to us at
Xenos. Our training program takes several years of classroom and
field training. We allow people to become leaders with
relatively few qualifications. But if they want to remain
leaders, they must complete their training over the next three
years. Our typical leader has completed:
- 210 hours of classroom instruction with homework and
- Two to five years of personal mentoring from an older
- Have either won non-Christians to Christ, or at least
brought people who were converted
- Have won one or more individuals into a personal
- Have led a cell group (within their home church) with
growth and spiritual advancement in the members' lives;
- Have a proven character like
required for deacons in 1 Tim. 3.
At a time when many church leaders are telling
me, "no one can get their workers to come to training any more," and
"weekly worker meetings are dead; they are attended so weakly" I
find it extraordinary that this church asks for and gets 210 hours
of classroom training, complete with tests, from their workers. What
is the result?
High Proportion of Converts
According to several recent studies on churches in America,
over 80% of growth in growing churches is the result of
Christians transferring from other evangelical churches.
Disturbed by these findings, Xenos leaders did a church-wide
survey of our own membership in the spring of 2005. We were
pleased and a bit surprised to find that 82% of Xenos members
claim they were not involved in any church at the time they
began coming to Xenos. Over 60% of our members reported that
they met Christ at Xenos.
Well, you may be thinking, maybe they are one
of those churches that just has a hot band in their worship services
and that is how they are doing it. That would be wrong:
No Worship Services
Visitors to Xenos are always amazed (and often appalled) that
we don't conduct worship services. This often leads to the
commonly heard question, "Why doesn't Xenos worship?" Xenos
leaders are never happy to hear this question, since it signals
a misunderstanding. We certainly do worship the Lord! The
problem is that the modern Western church has a very specific
understanding of what worship is, and visitors do not find that
particular form of worship at Xenos.
They go on to explain that worship happens at
the house church level, not the cooperate level. House churches are
just that--house churches. They are microcosms of the church. But,
they are not independent house churches. They are very much
connected to the larger Xenos family. It is just that at Xenos, the
center of church life is at the group level, not the congregational
level. There are an increasing number of churches that see it this
In the great reformation in the 16th century,
the center of gravity for the church shifted from the denomination
to the local church. The denomination did not go away, it is just
that the center of things shifted one level down to the local
church. In this era, in many churches, the center is shifting from
the local church to the micro-church. Pastors will say and mean it,
"If you can only come to one meeting a week, come to your Sunday
School class, not the worship service." These churches have
predictably strong Sunday Schools. At Xenos, the center of gravity
is definitely at the House Church level. I think is a fair
assessment to say that if the centralized church went away, the
House Churches would continue to function.
One further illustration of the way the House
Churches are the center of gravity is in the way they do weddings
funerals and visitation:
Home group leaders handle all weddings, visitations and
In most churches, the staff handles functions such as these.
In order to marry members, home church leaders have to be
ordained by the church, and this is something most churches are
reluctant to do. Churches don't want to proliferate ordained
pastors who may not be well qualified. This, of course, leads to
the conclusion mentioned earlier: that we must hold
higher qualifications for our home church leaders.
One way Xenos emphasizes the importance of the
House Church is to require all staff members to be in one:
All staff and eldership required to be in a home group
This is certainly not unique, but in our experience, it is
relatively unusual. Particularly important to us is that our top
leadership is fully involved and actually lead regular home
churches. When consulting with churches interested in building
their home group networks, we often find that the senior pastor
and others aren't in a home group for a variety of reasons, and
have no intention of joining one. We find it unlikely that such
churches will succeed in building high-caliber home-based body
life. For one thing, if the top leadership isn't on board with
the home fellowship agenda, how likely is it that the church
will see this as a central issue? People also will quickly draw
the conclusion that community of this kind must not be essential
for spiritual health, because what's good for the goose is
apparently not good for the gander.
What a contrast to many of the churches I am
in where the Pastor stands in the pulpit to wave the flag for group
life--be it home groups, or, in most of the churches I am in, Sunday
School. The pastor waves the flag, but if you look behind the
scenes, often the pastor himself is not in a group. The Worship
Leader is not in a group. The Youth Pastor is not in a group. The
Minister of Education is not in a group. But, the pastor is waving
the flag: group life is really important for you people! (Just not
for us at the top of the leadership pyramid.) There is a reason
Sunday School is struggling in many cases, and it is not because
Sunday School won't work. It is because we have not worked at it.
In a way, Sunday School doesn't work. Home
groups don't work. Visitation doesn't work. Seeker services don't
work. Nothing works. Do you know what does work? People work. God
works through people. Sunday School will not work on its own. It
will work because people work it. Home groups will work because
people work them. But, the top level of leadership must embrace the
vision and participate in the groups. It the Pastor and staff are
too busy for groups, so is everyone else. That doesn't happen at
McCallum and DeLashmutt envisioned a radically
involved church where everyone took part in ministry, virtually
erasing the usual clergy-laity distinction in western Christianity.
They saw the importance of keeping the church outward focused, and
sought to avoid what they perceived as a tendency in the American
church to be inward-focused and out of touch with contemporary
culture. Evangelism and personal discipleship were the means for
building the church. In Xenos, all leaders sought to disciple
younger believers, and that was supposed to lead to duplication.
Duplication of mature Christians would hopefully lead to duplication
of house churches. And as house churches multiplied, a church
planting movement would erupt. To the present day, Xenos strives to
be a church planting movement.
I would encourage you to learn everything you
can from Xenos--not to duplicate their model, but to learn from and
be inspired y these brothers who are doing an unusual and effective
work in Columbus, Ohio.
Subscribe to our