The movement of the Reformation in the 16th century brought to Lithuania the first printed book in the Lithuanian language, the Lutheran Catechism (1547), and later the first Lithuanian Bible (1590). By the World War II era, there were 80 Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL) congregations and 72 pastors were serving about 120,000 members. During the changes of World War II, many congregation members emigrated, were exiled or were killed. The churches that remained without pastors were closed and used for other purposes or were destroyed. During Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1990, religious instruction was forbidden and church membership brought public penalties.
With Lithuanian independence in 1990, the ELCL began to receive back church buildings, without congregations, and properties that in Soviet times were nationalized and used for various purposes. Churches and property were returned throughout the 1990s.
The ELCL knew that they were in need of well-trained leadership in pastors and lay leaders, and worked with the University of Klaipeda to create the Department of Evangelical Theology — the only such department in Lithuanian universities. Today, nearly 100 students are being trained and eight graduates have been ordained.
LCMS World Mission supports mission and church planting efforts in Lithuania by helping to provide training and aiding in the development of Sunday school materials. One career missionary family currently serves the Baltic region, which includes Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They walk alongside the Lutheran churches in these countries as they continue determining how to best use their resources and pursue further training of pastors and laypeople.
LCMS World Relief and Human Care support began in 2005, with grants that helped fund website development for the Lutheran Church in Lithuania, construction of the Lutheran Center and orphanage support.In addition, the church received financial and other support from the LCMS Iowa East District to build a church and diaconal center in Palanga.
In 2000, the ELCL declared itself in full fellowship with the LCMS. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania became a sister/partner church of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod by vote of the LCMS convention in 2001. The church body includes 21,000 active members, 52 congregations and 15 pastors.