The Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB) began in 1900 in Milwaukee, WI when five independent Lutheran congregations made a decision to form a new denomination. The founders of this new denomination were ethnically Norwegian and their concern was that many of the Norwegian immigrants entering the US were Lutheran church members, but not necessarily active believers in Jesus. They also felt that there were some aspects of the existing Lutheran churches of the day that were not conducive to spiritual vitality, specifically, church membership practices, the form of worship, and the leadership structure of these churches. These areas of concern became the primary distinctives of the new denomination.
The CLB practices “believers membership” which means that it attempts to have all of the members of its congregations confessing believers in Christ and actively engaged in the life of the church. Historically, the CLB’s form of worship has been informal as opposed to the more typical formal Lutheran liturgy. Today many CLB congregations incorporate contemporary aspects of worship into their services. The third distinctive is the local CLB church leadership structure in which local congregations are led by elders, but with the congregational membership still retaining the final decision-making authority, and with each congregation owning its own property, calling its own pastors and functioning autonomously.
The original founders of the denomination also had a deep commitment to be engaged in international mission efforts. This focus is illustrated in that the CLB’s first missionaries were sent out just two years after it formed, and in that the CLB in Africa (Cameroon and Chad) is well over ten times as large as the American church body. The CLB also has mission work in Taiwan and Japan.
In the 1950’s the CLB began a more intentional effort at starting new churches in the US and Canada when the Home Missions arm of the denomination was begun. Since that time the denomination has more than doubled in size with pockets of churches in metro New York, the upper Midwest, and in the Pacific Northwest. At this point there are approximately 115 churches in 21 US states and two Canadian provinces.