The first Lutheran mission was established by the Neuendettelsau Mission Society, at Finschhafen, on the east coast of the German Protectorate of New Guinea, in 1886. In 1887 the Rhenish Missionary Society began work in the Madang area. The German missionaries established schools in which the teaching was in the vernacular, in German, or both. Most missionaries were allowed to remain when Australia took over the German colony after World War I. In the early 1930s Lutheran missionaries were among the first Europeans to move into the highlands. In 1934 a Lutheran mission bought a plane and pioneered mission aviation. The Lutheran Shipping Company is the major carrier of cargo and passengers along the north and northeast coasts. In 1948 the Missouri Synod of the American Lutheran church established a mission in Enga Province. When its missionary activity expanded this became the Wabag Lutheran church, which in 1963 formed the basis of the Gutnius Lutheran church.
In 1956 the other Lutheran groups joined to form a local church known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of New Guinea (ELCPNG). In 1976 the ELCPNG became fully autonomous and was joined by the Siassi Lutheran Church which had grown out of Australian Lutheran missionary activity. In 1990 the 832,933 members of the Evangelical Lutheran church were 23.9 percent of the Christian population (the second largest denomination) and 23.1 percent of the total population. In 1991 Rose Muingnepe, an Evangelical Lutheran, became the first woman to chair the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches (PNGCC). She was reelected to this position in 1993. The 1980 census recorded Gutnius Lutherans as 2.1 percent of the Christian population. They did not appear as a separate group in the 1990 census but have separate representation on the PNGCC.