Noel Stanton, founder of the evangelical Northamptonshire group, the Jesus Army, has died at the age of 82.
Mr Stanton had been suffering from an undisclosed illness for some months and handed the leadership of the organisation over to successor Mick Haines earlier this year because of his declining health.
The Jesus Fellowship Church was founded in Bugbrooke after Mr Stanton became pastor at the village Baptist church, and spread across Northamptonshire and the country.
The sect, commonly known as the Jesus Army, is based at New Creation Farm, Nether Heyford, one of the group's communities. There are currently about 3,500 members in 24 congregations across the UK.
John Campbell, director of communications for the Jesus Army, said: "Noel's energy and devotion have been an inspiration to many over the years. He will be sadly missed, but he has left a legacy of faith and commitment that will carry on.
"What he would most want to be remembered for are the many who have been helped to find hope and stability through faith in Jesus and the activities of the Jesus Army – not least through the Jesus centres around the UK that were one of his final initiatives."
Mr Stanton was unmarried and lived within the community. A spokesman said he lived "simply", in the same manner as those he sought to lead, and lived his life dedicated to Jesus Christ as a committed celibate.
Mr Stanton became pastor at Bugbrooke in 1957 and ran the village church on traditional principles until 1969 when he had what he claimed was an intense spiritual experience.
Writing of the experience, he said: "It was so intoxicating, so exhilarating, and so intense that I felt I was just not going to live any more. I became filled with the intensity of God.
"This went on for hours and hours. It was a tremendous experience of life and fullness from which I didn't come down for a long time, and this was the changing point in my life."
On the Jesus Army website forum, Mr Stanton's followers paid tribute to him.
One said: "He was a legend and a man of apostolic vision. May he hear 'Good and faithful servant' and be an inspiration to us all."
Funeral details have not been confirmed.