During the last four centuries Lutheran people emigrated from Europe to many parts of the world, and wherever they went they founded new Lutheran communities. The tendency was for people of the same background and language to form a 'synod'. Over time synods would come together to form churches.
During the same period, especially during the time of colonial expansion, Lutheran missionaries went to many countries and began missions. These missions became young churches as new Christians matured in faith and indigenous leaders emerged. For example, German, American and Australian missionaries laboured side-by-side in colonial New Guinea, and in 1956 (long before political independence was given serious consideration) a new church was born.
As a result of this missionary zeal, there are Lutheran churches on every inhabited continent and in almost all countries, even if in some cases it is a small presence.
The number of Lutherans in Europe is about 37 million and in North America it is a little over 7.7 million, plus 1.1 million for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Lutheran Church is growing the fastest in Africa, where the number of Lutherans is heading towards 20 million. In Asia, too, there is rapid growth in some areas, so that today there are almost 9 million Lutheran Christians, 5.6 million of whom are Indonesian. In little over a century, the number of Lutherans in our neighbouring country Papua New Guinea has grown to more than 1 million. In Australia and New Zealand, the numbers of Lutherans is relatively small: around 60,000 baptised members (although more than three times that number claimed to be Lutheran in the last Australian government census).
There is much diversity in the global family of Lutheran churches. The defining feature is the acknowledgement of the Lutheran confessional writings, especially the Augsburg Confession, and instruction in the faith, based on the Small Catechism of Martin Luther. Most Lutheran churches follow a liturgical tradition that goes back to Martin Luther’s reform of the liturgy. The almost bewildering diversity among Lutherans is due in large part to a strong consciousness of their freedom in the gospel.
International Lutheran organisations
Most Lutheran churches in the world today belong to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), which claims a membership of more than 70 million people in 145 member churches in 79 countries. The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) is an associate member of the LWF. A further 3.7 million people belong to other Lutheran churches. The biggest grouping after the LWF is the International Lutheran Council, of which the LCA is also an associate member.