Youth group tourism is a big part of business in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Various church-centered conventions bring in thousands of young and faithful each year to worship, praise and enjoy bond-building fun in the tourist friendly small towns.
Religious attractions have always played a big role in the fabric of the area.
I can remember as a young youth group member planning trips to Christ-centered vacation destinations that featured a wide variety of religious-themed attractions.
But the face of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is ever-evolving.
The value of real estate makes shifting sands that can leave even the most entrenched attractions on suddenly odd footing.
In addition, the current economic climate and the state of, well, everything have made it harder for smaller attractions, even those with religious theming to survive.
And so, if you’re planning on some Christian-centered activities during your visit and wish to see some gospel shows, there are fewer, but still excellent options available.
But before we get into that, let’s first pay homage to a few of our favorite Christian themed attractions that are gone but not forgotten:
Miracle Theatre (permanently closed)
At a certain point in the booming 90s, there was a run on mid-level celebrity theaters in Pigeon Forge.
Lee Greenwood had one as did Louise Mandrel, of the Mandrel Sisters who you don’t hear much about anymore.
It seems the celebrity theater business model didn’t work as they all faded away, leaving giant opera houses ill-suited for anything else but gigantic productions.
In stepped the Miracle Theater, which took the place of the Mandrel Theatre.
The mission of the theater was to provide gospel-spreading entertainment through various productions, including “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
The Miracle Theater closed in 2011 and reopened the next season as the Smoky Mountain Opry Theater.
In 2018, the theater was purchased by the owner of Dolly’s Stampede, only to close again in early 2020. It currently sits empty next to the Hard Rock Café in Pigeon Forge.
A few other shows have been closed, but might reopen:
Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (currently closed)
Established in 1997 inside Dollywood, the museum contained tributes to the pioneers of southern gospel music.
Featuring thousands of display items and an animatronic quartet, the museum was a popular stop for fans of southern gospel music.
In October of 2020, the Hall of Fame issued an announcement that the lease on the building in Dollywood would not be renewed.
The release attempted to take the high road but also cast a little shade: “Sometimes the Lord leads us to a dry hole, like He did the children of Exodus 16, We don’t want to be murmurers, but we want to be grateful for what He’s given us and trust Him to supply what we need for the future.”
Shroud Museum (currently closed)
Dedicated to the Shroud of Turin, which is the negative image of a crucified body that many believe is Jesus Christ, the Shroud Museum was one of the more unique attractions in Pigeon Forge.
The museum had a full-size replica of the Shroud as well as a tomb similar to the one Joseph of Arimathea donated for Christ’s body.
The museum opened in 2019 in a strip mall between a pizza place and a candy store. It closed in August 2020 due to the economic hardship, but at the time, its owner indicated it might return.
A few other shows that have closed, but are returning include:
Christ in the Smokies Museum in Gatlinburg (returning soon)
When I first visited the Christ in the Smokies Museum, it was Christus Gardens, a peaceful, lowkey respite in the middle of the neon-colored, candy-coated chaos in Gatlinburg.
It was an excellent place to Zen out.
I always found it peaceful and relaxing except for the carving of Jesus whose gaze followed you wherever you went. That was a little too Judgment Day for me.
The Gardens closed in 2007 but reopened as the Museum and Gardens. The museum closed in early 2021 when the lease was sold to the nearby SkyLift Park, a fact of real estate life.
The museum’s collection was reportedly sold to Biblical Times where it appears the attraction will be reborn in some capacity.
Recently, we’ve confirmed rumors that the Christ in the Smokies Museum is returning and will be next door to Biblical Times in Pigeon Forge.
A spokesperson confirmed renovation is underway but an opening date has not been set. Further details were not available.
My supposition, based simply on the location, is that the new spot will focus more on the museum than the gardens, which would be something of a shame. But at least the collection will live on.
Here are the Christian shows that you can still catch in the Smoky Mountains:
The Biblical Times Dinner Theater
Where the Miracle Theater fell, the Biblical Times Dinner Theater continues.
The main attraction is the show “Ruth,” the journey of two women through love, loss, and redemption.
Visitors join Ruth and Naomi as they arrive in Bethlehem after losing their husbands and family and as they seek God through their trials. A gospel-style concert is part of the show’s first act.
At the time of this writing, pricing for the event includes a full meal and runs right at $56 for adults 12 and up. Children 3-11 are $30.
Productions are usually held on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
But as anyone who frequents the Smokies knows all too well, actual prices and schedules tend to vary wildly throughout the season. It’s always best to call ahead or check their website for the latest information before you plan your trip.
In addition, the Biblical Times Dinner Theater offers special performances throughout the year.
These performances offer guests the chance to see some of their favorite gospel groups and then catch the production of “Ruth.”
The Kingdom Heirs at Dollywood
While the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame has left Dollywood, the park is still devoted to paying tribute to Dolly’s faith and the faith of the mountain community in which she grew up.
For 36 years, the men’s gospel quartet has been a featured resident artist at Dollywood.
The group started performing in local churches and concert halls and as their music and message spread to a wider audience, so did their popularity and demand.
They began performing at Silver Dollar City in 1982 and when the park became Dollywood, they were asked to become the park’s resident gospel group.
The Kingdom Heirs Perform at the Showstreet Palace Theater inside the park.
A Brighter Day at Dollywood
This production showcases the talent of four vocalists and a five-piece band performing songs from various genres, including country, contemporary Christian and pop.
The design is to create an uplifting and positive message. They perform at the Back Porch Theater inside the Dollywood theme park.
What’s your favorite Christian show in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!