In a time when many religions are witnessing a drop-off in attendance at worship services, evangelicalism is booming: It’s the fastest-growing form of faith in the United States today. A substantial 26.3 percent of American adults define themselves as evangelicals, according to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Although there’s no single agreed-upon definition of the movement, evangelicals often cite these themes: fealty to scripture, devotion to Jesus Christ and the primacy of being “born again.” Beyond those core beliefs, adherents come in many stripes, as Asheville-based documentary photographer Scott Lessing has learned.
Lessing began focusing his lens on local evangelical groups last summer. “Since WNC is the home of Billy Graham—one of the nation’s pre-eminent preachers and evangelicals—I was curious to see the contemporary face and character of the movement,” he explains. The following photo essay presents some highlights of Lessing’s ongoing photo project.
Through the project, Lessing says he’s learned that “the focus of contemporary evangelicalism is to live for God outside of the church and spread his message.” That mission, he’s found, can take widely varying forms. “Many techniques are employed by the churches, and many contemporary activities are themed to God, such as music groups, pop culture, entertainment and many other, if not all other, areas of daily life,” he observes.
But what’s impressed Lessing most, he reports, is the range of practitioners and styles of worship. “This is truly a wide and disparate movement made up of people from varied and diverse backgrounds,” he notes. “From children too young to walk, to teenagers, families and retirees, to bikers, cowboys, teenyboppers and everyone in between, this movement accepts and has something for everyone who believes.”
To view more of Lessing’s photography, visit www.scottlessing.net.