COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A former leader in Xenos Christian Fellowship is responding to claims of emotional abuse made by former church members in a series of NBC4 Investigates’ reports.
Ian Martin belonged to Xenos, which changed its name to Dwell Community Church in 2020, for 25 years. He said his parents joined in the 1980s, when he was in kindergarten, so he was raised as a part of Xenos. By his late teens, Martin was a leader in the church.
Martin backed the allegations of exploitation that other former Xenos members made on the record.
Martin said he first noticed inappropriate behavior when he was in middle school. He said he attended parties at church-affiliated ministry houses with college-aged adults.
“I think I was in the summer between seventh and eighth grade, and, like, being given beer,” Martin said.
Martin also recalled being questioned about his sex life by adults when he was a child.
“My friend’s parents had a party for her moving from seventh to eighth grade,” he said. “(The parents) cornered me and asked me if I was having sex with my girlfriend.”
According to Martin, the adults used more vulgar language when they questioned him.
“I didn’t even know what to say,” Martin said. “There’s this obsession with, like, the sexuality and the sexual lives of their … members and accountability. I didn’t really notice. I didn’t really realize the control they had until after I was gone.”
In high school, Martin became more involved with Xenos.
“I was directly involved with bringing people into the church in high school and college. There’s this whole aspect of the church that is based around everyone should be striving for leadership,” Martin said.
Martin said he was strongly encouraged to attend multiple church meetings each week. He was also taking leadership classes from Xenos, which he had to pay for.
“When I was there, they were like $50, $60,” Martin said. “It’s not crazy, but you have to take a lot of classes to be a leader.”
As a leader, Martin said he did things he now feels were manipulative, including recruiting younger members whose parents were not members of Xenos.
“I remember telling kids in middle school and in high school that, you know, ‘f— your parents … they’re crazy. They’re crazy, and they don’t love God. And you need to come to more meetings.’”
Martin also corroborated claims from other former members that they were encouraged by leaders and mentors to discuss their sex lives.
“I met with my co-leader and the person that was above us, and one of the … primary things we would do would be to like talk about, like, confessing sexual sins,” Martin said. “What do you know about all these other people, and where are they at? What did they do? What did they confess to you?”
Martin said he felt uncomfortable having those conversations with the people he led, “But you had to do it because that was, at the time, you know, it’s all framed around, ‘That’s the loving thing to do.’”
According to Martin, he was involved in excommunicating multiple members, often for what the church deemed to be sexual impropriety.
“The person would show up in the whole home church. Like 50 people would all take turns telling them … they’re like, ‘You’re so great, brother. I don’t understand why you’re messing up and doing this. And we really, really want you to stop doing it.’ And you know, ‘Are you going to commit to stop doing it? If you don’t commit to stop doing it — stopping your behavior, then from here on out, you’re dead to us.’”
Martin explained that Xenos members were isolated from nonmembers, largely due to the time commitment from the number of meetings.
“You don’t have anyone. We’ve separated you from your family, we’ve separated you from your friends from the outside, we’ve done a really good job of making you part of this system, and now we have control over you,” Martin said.
Two people who identified themselves as current members of Dwell reached out to NBC4 Investigates’ Jamie Ostroff on social media, saying their experiences at the church have been positive, and that the stories they’ve seen have unfairly painted Dwell in a negative light. They have not responded to requests to be interviewed.
Dwell leadership posted a response to NBC4 Investigates’ reporting on a public page on their website. In it, Pastor James Rochford is quoted as saying, “We sincerely want to grow from mistakes and repent of any sins we’ve committed, but it’s difficult to respond to claims on social media that are unfalsifiable – there’s no feasible way to interact with an anonymous person or with anonymous claims.”
While NBC4 Investigates’ reporting included conversations with anonymous sources, it mostly relied on named sources on the record.
Dwell leadership declined requests for an interview, but answered questions via email for NBC4 Investigates’ initial series of reports. The church elders have not responded to an email seeking an interview that was sent Friday morning.