Faith in focus

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

Dude, where’s my salvation?: Christian-themed apparel on display at last September’s Lowcountry Franklin Graham Festival in Charleston, S.C.

Let us pray: Participants in Biltmore Baptist Church’s annual mass baptism at Biltmore Lake bow their heads in prayer before last August’s baptisms begin.

Gearing up: Pastors and assistant pastors prepare to conduct the Biltmore Lake baptisms; about 150 believers went under the waters.

Like father, like son: Boone-based Franklin Graham, son of über-evangelist Billy Graham, has become a leading evangelical in his own right. Here he takes the stage on the Charleston festival’s final evening.

Three days of inspiration: Some 35,000 people packed the North Charleston Coliseum during the Lowcountry Festival’s three days of sermons and musical performances.

Ten-gallon theology: Gene Blankenship Jr. delivers the message at his Land of the Sky Cowboy Church in Weaverville.

From Bible to bandmates: The popular Christian hip-hop act Group 1 Crew performs at the Lowcountry Festival. Three young Latinos formed the group after years of studying the Bible together.

Megamessage: A pastor at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden delivers the word; up to 2,000 parishioners attend the megachurch on Sundays.


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3 thoughts on “Faith in focus

  1. Asheville ABC

    I appreciate the article, but I believe it is a bit unbalanced to those outside of the community. For example, “this movement accepts and has something for everyone who believe” is a qualifying statement of prior belief to acceptance into the community. This movement of evangelicals is anything but growing. Steady trends show decline in membership, across all denominations, for those in the Christian tradition. I say this as a concerned Christian and a student of church history. I am from the Asheville area, attended Mars Hill College, and am now at graduate school at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. This progressive seminary has taught me to question all claims of truth and I unfortunately have to contest your claims of both growth and acceptance within the evangelical community. I am not trying to destroy or deconstruct your article, because I believe this community deserves more coverage in the media, I am simply concerned in the accuracy of your claims.

  2. Gazbot

    Scary. Simply. Scary. Reading this type of this is just torture to people who don’t have imaginary sky-friends. But, it is so pervasive in this country, that we just an an election that had to defend whether the possible president had a belief OTHER than Christianity. There are those who still don’t accept the answer, but it had to be supported otherwise he had no chance. WOW. Heaven. Hell. SkyGods. Parables. 21st century (calendar based on the son of stories). Double wow.

  3. Asheville ABC, the inclusion of the line “for everyone who believe” is definitely meant as a qualifier. Most certainly acceptance within this community is based on the belief of Jesus as the lord and savior. But I do believe that this denomination is growing; the churches are expanding their facilities, ministry and outreach is emergent, new missions are being created and expanded and this growth wouldn’t be happening without greater attendance.

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