A man I'll call Paul (because that's actually his name) told me he recently started going to church. In his mid-seventies, with no faith background, he woke up one morning with a sudden urge to hear the pope, and that launched him on a journey that led a few months later to a Presbyterian church and then to a commitment to follow Jesus. Every week he comes to church and marvels at all he gets to learn about prayer and worship and faith.

A man I'll call Ralph (not his real name) told me recently how he stopped going to church. I have known him for decades. He is a well-known pastor and speaker. He still believes in God. He meets with some like-minded friends on Sunday evening to talk and pray together. But he got burned out on the local church—it came to feel to him like a relentless drive for numbers and success and program and hype. He told me that the people in his little house group are long-time church people, most of them former church staff members.

Paul and Ralph exemplify a ...

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