The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—simply known as “The Disciples”— began on the American Frontier in the early 1800s—a place where people lived by their own ingenuity. American settlers resonated with the practical, down-to-earth religion of simplicity, unity, and freedom which helped them cope with their hard lives. As individuals, the Disciples read and interpreted the Bible for themselves and built faith on reason. They lived “no creed but Christ” because they thought doctrines and human differences should not divide believers from one another. They understood ministry to be the work of both ordained ministers and the lay men and women who were members of the church. Together they served in mission, fighting disease, ignorance, poverty, racism, war, and oppression.
Many Disciples came to Montana during the 1860s. One named Thomas Franklin Campbell owned a gold claim about twenty miles from Last Chance Gulch. When he rode into town on the weekends to replenish supplies, he gathered the first group outdoors for worship. Those Disciples eventually began the Helena Christian Church which was supported by the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions.
The first official congregation to charter in Montana was started by missionary-evangelist Gustavus Hoffman in Deer Lodge. The second was founded in Corvallis by W.D. Lear, a young Disciples minister from Kentucky. Soon, other congregations were established in Anaconda and Missoula. In 1880, 675 Disciples attended worship in Montana. Together, they were the largest Protestant group in the territory.