Nestled in the Missouri Ozarks, Branson has been described as a smaller version of Nashville or Las Vegas because of its music entertainment shows. During tourist season, the city of 11,630 residents swells as visitors flock to shows, attractions, and theme parks.
Branson combines patriotism, Ozarks folk culture, and faith. The Veterans Day parade is one of the country’s largest, and nearly every show has a fiddle player. In recent years, however, shows have incorporated a wider variety of musical styles to appeal to a broader audience.
Many musicians pull double duty, working at a theme park or show in addition to serving at one of the area’s churches. One church, though, recently took show involvement to the next level, purchasing a theater on the main route known as 76 Country Boulevard.
King’s Branson is part of the King’s Cathedral and Chapels network based in Maui, Hawaii, under the leadership of pastors James and Colleen Marocco. Started in 1980 as First Assembly of God Maui, King’s Cathedral and Chapels is in 11 nations and 10 U.S. states.
The Branson location is led by pastors Chris S. Davis and his wife, Melissa. After attending Central Bible College, they served as music ministers in the Maui church from 1988 to 2009, followed by five years in Irving, Texas. In 2014, they moved to Branson, which they both visited regularly while growing up. Their son Dillon serves as children’s pastor at King’s, and daughter Madison, an Evangel University student, helps with music and media. Another son, Austin, works in the music industry in Nashville.
Branson ministry is a great fit for Chris Davis, 55, whose 30 plus years of experience writing and producing faith-based musicals are well known in the Christian music industry. While meeting in temporary locations, King’s Branson produced a full-length Broadway-style musical, “Jesus: The Experience,” in local theater facilities, as well as shows for Christmas outreach. In 2019, King’s Branson purchased the Music City Centre building. After a year of hard work, the updated facility opened in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought temporary shutdowns in Branson, but after meeting online for several weeks, the church returned to in-person worship and presented “Jesus: The Experience” during Branson’s abbreviated summer tourist season. For Halloween weekend, King’s offered Candy Lane, a treat-filled journey through themed rooms, and “The Greatest Show,” combining live choreography with video of contemporary artists and trends around a faith theme based on the movie The Greatest Showman. The show is a ministry of the church’s youth group directed by James Reynolds, who serves as youth pastor while studying at Evangel University. It is designed to appeal to local and visiting youth, many of whose normal social schedules had been disrupted by the pandemic. The weekend event functioned as a fun alternative to less-wholesome Halloween celebrations and a safe environment in compliance with local COVID-19 precautions.
Reynolds also serves as production assistant to Davis for the other shows. The cast, crew, and support staff such as ushers are volunteers from the church who see the productions as a way to use their talents in ministry. “Jesus: The Christmas Experience” and new ideas for 2021 will utilize Davis’s writing skills and some past repertoire. An Easter show and a new summer/fall seasonal show also are planned.
Marketing and administrative director Barbara Shirkey, who has combined a retail career with serving King’s Cathedral and Chapels network for many years, relocated to help with the Branson location. She describes King’s Branson as “100 percent quality theater experience and 100 percent church.” Because some attendees may be gifted in ways other than performing, Shirkey oversees other ministries to the community.
A downside of Branson’s tourism industry is that seasonal workers are often trapped in a cycle of barely making ends meet, with some families living in extended-stay motels. A grocery ministry and regular kids’ events have been a blessing to families hit hard by the pandemic’s effect on tourism-related jobs. A team also conducts jail ministry in neighboring Stone County; both Stone County and rural Taney County have high rates of drug-related incarceration.
Because the church holds a food license for show concessions, a coffee shop in the lobby will open as another opportunity for community interaction. Show tickets are reasonably priced, with proceeds redirected into ministry.
“The goal is to be a Spirit-sensitive church,” Davis says. “Whether through the shows or services and other ministries, we are hoping for revival and a greater flow of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”