But are they too more cult than religion? Depends on who you ask
Two images one of a list of birthdays and one saying Say Oh No to Cults

This isn’t your Crazy Mama’s off-campus anymore. Nor is it your Papa Joe’s or Mean Mr. Mustard’s.

Above on left is a picture sent to us by an Ohio State student of a marker board from an off-campus “House Ministry” of roommates letting everyone know how long they’ve self-restrained from watching porn (i.e., “Flogging your dolphin”).

The image on the right is a show poster from last year promoting a concert to raise awareness of “cult activity on campus.” Kool-Aid Man wrapped with a snake is a nice touch.

There are still pockets of cool campus, but those halcyon days (sorta) of the late 1980s and early 1990s are long gone. Replaced of course by the corporate-lame South Campus Gateway mixed-use complex.

Yet what also is a headscratcher is how Christian youth ministries have gained a startling foothold around OSU over the previous two decades. First was Xenos, which began in Columbus in the 1970s, and rebranded recently as “Dwell.” Xenos, as many are aware, is known for its off-campus group homes or “House Ministries.”

“Xenos members are very focused on growth, and they deploy many tactics to lure in high school and college age students – parties, events, trips, etc.,” said Mark Kennedy a former member and outspoken critic of Xenos who created “The vulnerable period during freshman year of college is where Xenos members can provide an instant social network to join which is very appealing to many people because they believe that they are being befriended by people who generally care about them.”

Following Xenos’s lead in many ways are several other Christian-youth ministries which have made serious gains off-campus over the past decade. There’s “Cru.” and also “H2O,” that came from Michigan in 2008 (they say “God has a sense of humor”).

But one international ministry in particular, say several current Ohio State students, has taken the University District by storm. It’s Young Life, founded in Texas in 1941, now with over 8,500 school chapters and roughly 300,000-members.

Young Life too encourages members to live together in group homes with over 10 Young Lifers in a home in some cases.  

“Almost all of East 10th Avenue is filled with Young Life frats and sororities. There are more Young Life homes than regular people,” said an OSU student who did not want to offer their name for publication. “Young Life is significantly more popular in this area.”

 “I feel like Young Life really had a big influx of people in like 2018-19,” said an OSU graduate who also did not want to offer their name for publication. “Dwell [formerly Xenos] has always had their hand on Columbus. Dwell might be less noticeable right now because people are more aware of them and what they have done.”

All local youth ministries should be commended for their charity and volunteer work. They embrace a lifestyle which atheists scoff at, but in a world where certain party drugs can easily kill, maybe so many young people accepting “Jesus as your savior” isn’t something to brush off.

But are they more cult than religion? This may be one reason why Dwell’s popularity is fading, say former members.

“Young Life does not have the rules, oversight, and overall life control happening in their houses that Dwell has as a standard,” said another OSU student.

The cost of off-campus housing, like the rest of Columbus, has gone through the proverbial roof. Many OSU students leaving the dorms have no choice but to move into a large group home, leaving some non-Christian students no choice but to move into a Young Life “House Ministry.”

“When I first decided to move into the house it was because I had summer courses, so the location was worthwhile. I also wanted to meet new friends,” said an OSU student who moved into a Young Life home with over 10 roommates, but they themselves were not Young Life. “I went into the house not judging them and figured it as a youth ministry with passionate leaders.”

This same student said, “People would say in passing YL [Young Life] is a cult. I wanted to judge it for myself.”

They continued: “I view it as a cult now. People join these cults because they feel accepted. They preach the ‘Word’ and their idea of Jesus in such a way which continually reaffirms bias beliefs. If you ask  a YL’er their opinion on salvation they will say ‘salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ alone.’”

The culture in the off-campus YL homes varies. Some allow drinking, some don’t. One YL house of over 10 has a “Swisher Sweet” night, a cheap cigar, the gathering completely sans THC. Some students suggested the YL retreats, with endless sermons and worship songs, are where the cult accusations have mostly originated.

“The retreats, however, are a totally different story. They push kids to accept Jesus hard,” stated a post on Reddit.

There are also questions whether Young Life embraces LGBTQ members. Publicly, and after much protest, Young Life reversed its policy which disallowed LGBTQ students from taking leadership and volunteer positions.

But what they say publicly and do internally are two different things, even though the good book says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”

“Young Life’s national leadership doesn’t want any gay leaders,” said another OSU student. “And the YL’ers I know are against gays. They don’t just know why they are.”