Every Believer a Disciple Maker

“I’m preaching myself to death, but they’re not getting it.”

That is how Mangaliso Matshobane summarizes his first decade of apostolic ministry as the founding pastor of a church in South Africa. With an attractive facility located among the governmental buildings in Bisho, capital of Eastern Cape province, and the simple name of Community Church, the young congregation attracted both government workers and neighborhood residents. It had good organization and effective administration, but something was missing.

“I’ve always wanted to see the church grow and be planted everywhere,” Matshobane says, “but we weren’t seeing multiplication.” He led the church in prayer. He taught from the Bible, often from the book of Acts. He implemented a small-group system across the church. He was mentored by many leaders, learning about cell groups from Ralph Neighbour and Home Cell movement, and joining the International Ministries of Prophetic and Apostolic Churches Together (IMPACT) through John Eckhardt Ministries.

He also regularly told the church’s origin story, in which he believes the Holy Spirit led him to plant the church under a vision based on Rev. 11:15, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Based on this mandate, the church set up different “desks” aligned to different government departments. For example, the Police Desk partners with local law enforcement to fight crime—which includes church members leading prayers at various police stations. The Education Desk has facilitated the adoption of various local schools, from providing needy pupils with school uniforms to establishing numerous scout groups. According to a Gateway News report on the church, “The reason this church gets into such activities is because it believes it is called to change its community.”

Yet while there was fruit, there was too much transfer growth and too much dependence on an attractional model that could easily develop into a personality cult. “I wanted us to grow leaders, not ‘rent’ them,” Matshobane reflects.

Rhythms of Disciple Making

One turning point was the connection in 2015 with the G12 movement in South Africa led by Bert Pretorious. The discipleship movement moved the church toward the fulfillment of the priesthood of all believers by making every believer a disciple maker. 

“This discipleship model totally transformed my ministry,” Matshobane says.

Then in 2022, he met yet another influencer: Matt Millar, global operations director of the NewThing Network. 

“In introducing the movement concept and how to multiply movements, NewThing gave contemporary vocabulary to concepts in Scripture,” Matshobane says. “It helped us develop doable, practical, daily rhythms of disciple making. I found it refreshing to learn how making disciples in day-to-day life could be modeled at the individual level, and in a cohort, and even in a network that results in a movement.”

Matshobane also grew more comfortable with the idea that this kind of discipleship takes time. “You don’t produce a disciple overnight,” he says. “Accepting that truth was a relief.”

Once Matshobane emphasized developing each church planter as a disciple maker above the administrative and departmentalizing aspects of the church being planted, the multiplication he had long sought began happening at higher rates.

Fast-forward to today: Since its founding in 2004, Community Church has planted 28 churches in various parts of the country, giving them a presence in four of South Africa’s nine provinces. It is hoping to grow much further.

“Our background is a strong apostolic ministry—the training and releasing of teams—with a prophetic operation,” Matshobane says. Today that is happening at the highest rate in the church’s history. Community Church also runs and leads a network of churches called Apostolic Churches Together (ACT). 

New Frontiers

In being coached by Matt Millar about the fundamentals of a church planting movement, “we thought we’d hear about church planting, but instead it was about how to make disciples,” Matshobane says. “You can’t plant on the foundation of transfer growth. We had to shift more toward intentionally building relationships with the unsaved in order to win them and disciple them.”

This commitment didn’t prove easy given the realities of modern-day South Africa. “As the West influences Africa in terms of thinking and mindsets, we are becoming more secular,” Matshobane says. “South Africa wants to look progressive in the eyes of the international world. That means Christians here can no longer assume that someone believes that it is Jesus who saves. Instead, they’re questioning the claim that Jesus is the only way. An emphasis on discipleship has helped us to journey with people as our country transitions from an African cultural and secular lifestyle toward a Christianity that’s sensitive to the African renaissance of going back to our roots and reclaiming the African foundations, but doing so in a biblically centered way.

“Our generation is already discipled by a secular culture, through social media and other media. We have to enter that space and fight for the soul of a generation,” he says.

Matshobane uses the term “frontier ministry” to describe the church’s current approach to disciple making. Their strategy is that to connect with a community, the church must capture people’s hearts. 

“In the African context, that has worked wonders for us—unemployment is very high and issues of poverty surround us. If we come from an angle of How do we solve this problem as a community? people are interested and they allow us to pray, draw from Scripture, focus on the project, and build a Christian culture around a solution.” 

The outcome is often surprising. “The people we seek to serve wake up at some point and discover that they’re doing church,” Matshobane says. 

It’s not conventional church as many know it today, but he finds many parallels in their approach to the first-century church.

Homegrown Leaders

The resultant structure of the movement is like that of spiritual parenting. Matshobane has chosen to pour himself into others and care both for who they are and what they’re doing. He has served with integrity for a long time, and is honored and respected as a result. Instead of sitting back and just coasting in his apostolic authority, he has chosen to serve other pastors.

As he explains it, “We have a number of campuses even around the city of Bisho, but we don’t centralize them.” However, many teams do come into the sending campus as they pray together and prepare each to preach the same message. “I sit with them on Saturday, going through the message of what I want them to teach. Then we discuss it, and they reflect on it until they get the heart of what I’m trying to say.”

Once a month, he goes to a different satellite, and other pastors also move around. “I’m trying to decentralize power. I’m trying to follow the apostolic pattern of Acts, just as Paul and Barnabas had a base, but flowed into different areas. That approach seems more sustainable in terms of going forward, not allowing a personality cult to develop.”

The net result is more homegrown disciples and more homegrown leaders. “We excavate our own diamonds, but when they come out, they’re precious and glittering,” he says. “We use everyone’s gifts, but we raise [up] leaders.”

And they not only raise up those leaders, but they also send them out. 

“The idea is ‘Go ye, therefore!’” he says. “We are called to go, not to stay. Unless you’re going, you are not fulfilling the Great Commission. My teams know that we train you to go.”

Bisho, South Africa
Founding Pastor: Mangaliso Matshobane
Website: CommChurch.co.za
Founded: 2004
Locations: 28
Attendance: 2,000

Read more from Warren Bird »

Warren Bird
Warren Bird

Warren Bird, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is the vice president of research at ECFA, former research director for Leadership Network and author of more than 30 books for church leaders.