Csordas describes the group as theologically conservative, with a hierarchical leadership structure. But Lent said the group was also deeply inspired by the communitarian ethos of the 1960s counterculture. Group members often make an effort to live near each other in certain neighborhoods. Single people sometimes live with families, and there are some households of single men or single women living together. Members pledge to donate 5 percent of their gross income, and many give more, with the idea of supporting fellow members.

After about six years of participation, members can opt to commit to living in the community permanently, a ceremony that consists of pledging to attend weekly meetings and, as Lent paraphrased it, “to care for each other physically, financially, materially, and spiritually.” The term handmaiden was chosen in 1971, 14 years before Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, to evoke the Biblical Mary’s description of herself as a “handmaid of the Lord,” or a woman who has an important relationship with God. “It has acquired worse resonances, and all we were looking for was a neutral term,” Lent said, explaining the recent change to “woman leader.”

People of Praise is an ecumenical group, which means it accepts members from many Christian traditions. The only theological requirement of membership is to be a baptized Christian and to believe the Nicene Creed, a standard Christian statement of faith.