The Association traces its roots back to 1767 when Rev. William Phillip Otterbein attended a revival meeting in Lancaster, PA where Evangelist Martin Boehm was preaching. After hearing Rev. Boehm describe his own personal experience of coming to God through faith in Jesus Christ, Rev. Otterbein impulsively stood and loudly declared, "Sir, we are brethren!" As the audience watched them embrace they became endeared to these men and their Biblical persuasions. The two traveled in different circles in and out of Pennsylvania preaching and teaching but remained connected. Soon they had a large cohesive and likeminded following that called themselves the United Brethren in Christ, and in 1800 were ready to form themselves into an organized group. They appointed Phillip Otterbein and Martin Boehm as Bishops and had the distinction of becoming the first denomination native to America.
Another organization called the Evangelical Association was also founded in 1800 by Rev. Jacob Albright and officially formed in 1803. Wesleyan-Arminian in theology, they and the United Brethren in Christ were fundamentally the same, and in 1946 they decided to merge, forming The Evangelical United Brethren. In 1968 a majority of EUB churches voted to merge with the Methodists, forming the now named United Methodists. With the merge the United Methodists became owners of all EUB property. EUB churches that opposed the merge with strong convictions took the loss of personally purchased, hand-built, long-owned churches, parsonages, and property very hard. This sentiment lingered and eventually became a major influence in the forming of the Association of Evangelical Churches.
About fifty EUB Churches in the Pacific Northwest District withdrew from the EUB to protest the merger and in 1968 formed a new denomination called the Evangelical Church of North America. In 1969 they negotiated with the Methodists and for a large sum of money obtained most of their properties back. Soon other organized church groups joined including churches in the Eastern District of the former EUB and all seemed back on track.
After about ten years the ECNA began discussing a merge with the Evangelical Church in Canada. In the process of redoing the ECNA Discipline churches in Pennsylvania became concerned over ownership of local church property. Many had either just obtained their deeds back from the Methodists or completely founded new churches. They asked an attorney to review the wording of the ECNA Discipline and he pointed out that while the ECNA made no obvious claim to local church property, they could change the Discipline to do so in the future. The small group of Pennsylvania churches raised this concern and asked for writing in the new Discipline that guaranteed there could be no claims on local church property. When requests were refused these churches formed a new organization where they would have community and autonomy, and retain ownership of local church property.
After nearly two years of organizing, the founders incorporated as a non-profit organization in November of 1981 as The Association of Evangelical Churches. They held their first Annual Meeting in June of 1982 to receive charter churches and ministers, and approve Articles of Faith and their Constitution and By-Laws. And, as all might guess, in the paragraph on Local Church Property it states first that each church shall own its own property, and to protect this statement the paragraph adds that only a unanimous vote of the Association membership can change the first statement. Even the paragraph on Amending the Discipline protects the paragraph on Local Church Property by repeating that only a unanimous vote can amend both the statement on church property ownership and the Amendment paragraph itself. The Association churches then began their annual slate of ministry events with Family Camp in August of 1982, and has since added Mens Retreat, Ministry Retreat, Young Adult Singles Spiritual Advance, Youth Retreat, and Ladies Retreat. In addition, its Board of Ministry has trained, mentored, licensed, and ordained large numbers for ministry over the years. At the Annual Meeting in September 2011 the Association will celebrate its 30th Anniversary. Four Chairmen have served the Association in this span, Rev. Evans Mitchell 1982-1986; Rev. Gary Lyons 1986-1998; Rev. Jim Nelson 1998-2006; and Rev. Allen Young, 2006-present.