Nearly all African independent churches have elaborate leadership hierarchies. No matter how small the congregation, you will find archbishops and bishops, presidents and ministers, deacons and evangelists among the men, and corresponding hierarchies among the women - from lady bishops downwards. The plethora of titles is often the cause of some derision among the more established churches, but a closer look reveals the importance of leadership to the success of the African independent churches. (See Bishops and Prophets, Chapter 4).
Leadership is taken very seriously in the African independent churches. Each position has specific duties assigned and people are vetted before being appointed. Only full members of some years standing with impeccable public and private lives are appointed. A particular hierarchy may be shown in differences in uniform, which were often elaborate, and there is always a clear order of precedence. Installations, ordinations and consecrations are very important events and are often held at an annual conference of the church. The ritual is usually based on the liturgy of one of the established churches - the Methodist order of service being the most popular.
In Soweto leaders, particularly bishops of the smaller churches, were usually consecrated by a number of bishops of other churches. This was seen as important recognition in the community.
Successful leaders were often charismatic figures who attracted a following through powerful preaching and healing, but to retain and maintain a church also required leadership skills of a more bureaucratic nature. A combination of both sets of skills in one person is quite rare, and many churches had both a prophet and a bishop, with the prophet's charismatic gifts complementing the more mundane organisational skills of the bishop.
It is important to realise that these elaborate structures gave opportunities to exercise real leadership ability in a sector of society comprising the poorest and least educated, where opportunities were severely restricted through a combination of race and class in the height of apartheid rule.
There was a limit to leadership opportunities in any one church. One could be promoted through the hierarchy, but to become a bishop required the death or incapacity of the incumbent. There is a long history of succession disputes in the African independent churches, particularly where there were resources at issue. But in most cases with no property at stake the solution would be to found another church provided some followers were prepared to move on. This is probably the main reason for the existence of hundreds of tiny churches.