The Lutheran Church was established in South Australia in 1838 by German emigrants from Prussia who came because of religious persecution. Although this persecution ceased in the mid-1840s, many more Germans followed, seeking the better life that the first migrants reported to them. Settlements were established at Klemzig, Hahndorf, Lobethal and in the Barossa Valley. Some 20,000 German Lutherans migrated to South Australia between 1838 and 1860. With the expansion of settlement, the German Lutherans began to spread out across the state in search of larger landholdings. In their settlements, they soon built churches and schools.
German Lutherans also came to Victoria from the 1840s onwards and established the Lutheran Church in the Melbourne district. Some Germans moved from South Australia to Victoria, first to the Hamilton district in the 1850s and then to the Wimmera in the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1860s, Lutheran families moved from South Australia to the southern region of New South Wales as land became available for selection. As a result, the Riverina became the main area for the Lutheran Church in New South Wales.
German migration to Queensland began in large numbers in the 1860s. Their places of origin in Germany were different from those which produced the earlier migrants to southern Australia. Because of the distance from South Australia, separate Lutheran Churches were established in Victoria and Queensland. Only a small number of Lutheran congregations were established in Tasmania and Western Australia. As a result, 45 per cent of all Lutherans in Australia today are found in South Australia. Queensland has 25 per cent, Victoria 15 per cent, and the remaining 15 per cent in New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.
The Lutheran Church was predominantly a rural church and it remained so for over 100 years. With the growth of cities from the 1950s and the recent rural decline, there has been a steady rise in urban congregations.
German continued to be the language of many Lutheran homes for up to three or four generations. Similarly, the language of the Lutheran Church was German in its worship and its business. In the early 1900s moves were made to introduce English, and this was hastened by the outbreak of World War I. There was a transition period in the 1920s and 1930s, and after World War II only English was used.
The early Lutheran Church in Australia has unfortunately been marked by division. The first pastors, August Kavel and G D Fritzsche, disagreed on a number of matters and in 1846 they established separate churches. Further division led to more separate churches being formed. Victoria established its own church and Queensland had two Lutheran churches. As a result, in the early 1900s, there were eight separate Lutheran churches, plus some independent Lutheran pastors.
In the 20th century efforts were made to bring unity and in 1921 five churches joined together. Another one joined in 1926. The final union in 1966 created the present-day Lutheran Church of Australia.
Despite three Australian-trained pastors graduating in 1855, most of the pastors in the 1800s came from Germany, especially from the theological seminaries of Hermannsburg, Neuendettelsau, and Basle in Switzerland. From the 1880s the church sought pastors from the US (Missouri Synod, or Iowa Synod). From the early 1900s, they began training pastors in Australia at Concordia College and Immanuel College located.
The provision of education for their children was a priority for the early Lutherans. Many congregational primary schools were started in the 1800s. During World War I the schools were closed in South Australia by an Act of Parliament. However, they gradually reopened after the war. Secondary colleges were also started in the 1890s. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a rapid expansion in the Lutheran school system and numerous primary and secondary schools were established, especially in Queensland.
The Lutheran Church has been very much involved in mission work to Aboriginal people. Early efforts at Adelaide and Brisbane were short-lived. In the 1860s a mission was started on the Cooper's Creek in South Australia, but it survived for only 50 years. In the 1870s the Finke River Mission was started at Hermannsburg in Central Australia and it still continues. In the 1880s the Hope Vale Mission was started in northern Queensland and also the New Guinea Mission. In South Australia, the Koonibba Mission was started in 1901 and the Yalata Mission in 1956. The preaching of the gospel continues in these areas today. One special feature of Lutheran missions has been the use of the local Indigenous languages.