- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

STRASBURG, Pa. (AP) - It’s a state-of-the-art theater in the middle of a cornfield that puts on shows exclusively about Bible stories. And on the day before Holy Week 2018 began, the buses just kept on coming.

“Who’s excited to see Jesus?” an attendant at the door greeted the crowds with a hearty smile.

That’s the name of the show: “Jesus.”

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If you’ve driven around Lancaster County recently, you’ve likely seen the billboards advertising Sight & Sound Theatres’ latest production, which is showing at the Strasburg Township theater through the end of the year.

Although Sight & Sound is a for-profit business, ministry is at the heart of what they do.

It’s never been about revenue, said Katie Miller, corporate communications director and the oldest grandchild of the founding family. Their mission from the beginning has been to spread the Gospel of Jesus.

“Bible stories are at the core of who we are and what we do,” she said. “It is our niche — the thing we bring that’s different from what’s expected in theater.”

And, so far, it’s been successful.

Sight & Sound, which employs 650 people, is expecting 1.5 million visitors this year between their two locations in Strasburg Township and Branson, Mo. Attendance has continued to increase, and “Jesus” is mostly sold out through April and on most Saturdays throughout the year.

“Jesus” attendee Cynthia Myles of Baltimore is well aware that it’s hard to find a theater like Sight & Sound. Why? ” ‘Cause a lot of people don’t support it. That’s it. They don’t believe.”

On the national stage, it’s unusual for companies to mix business and religion. When they do, controversy can ensue.

That happened in 2012 when Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy made comments about “the biblical definition of the family unit” and sparked a national backlash, including calls for a boycott.

But in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Sight & Sound is far from alone in mixing religion and business.

?’It feels good to us’

Martin’s Trailside Express is a 24/6 truck stop.

Visit the East Earl business any time of day or night Monday through Saturday. But late Saturday night, the store sends its employees home until 4 p.m. Sunday.

?”It’s nice to have that downtime,” said owner Judy Weaver. “It feels good to us.” Her employees like having the time to go to church (or not). She thinks it’s important to give them time to relax and refocus.

Does she lose money? Maybe.

She thinks Sunday would be a busy day if they were open. But then again, maybe they’d lose some of their loyal customers who appreciate their unusual decision.

Another unusual decision informed by faith: They don’t sell tobacco products.

A truck stop that doesn’t sell cigarettes. Weaver mused they might be the only one.

That decision shows where Weaver’s priorities are as she runs her business. It’s “not all about the money or the sales,” she said. It’s more important to her that her truck stop is a family-friendly place that revolves around the community.

That means the business is active in local charities. It also means that they are sensitive to those who don’t share their beliefs.

Sure, they play Christian music quietly in the background. And if you go looking for it, you can find some Christian literature in the store. But Weaver said it’s not her goal to shove her beliefs down anyone’s throat.

?”We don’t think we’re better than anyone else,” she said.

Talk to Kirby Zimmerman, Director of Retail Operations for Weaver’s Nut Sweets & Snacks in Ephrata, and he’ll say nearly the same things about his store.

The management isn’t shy about their beliefs - they close the store on Sunday; they put up crosses for Easter in the store. But they aren’t out to offend.

“We don’t push it on anybody … It’s just a matter of sharing God’s love to everybody.”

Zimmerman has worked in corporate America. He likes it better at Weaver’s.

They focus on living out their faith, showing love and respect to customers. The No. 1 priority isn’t making money.

Maybe that actually helps them gain loyal customers, he said.

?’Giving up a lot of business’

Incorporating faith into a business has real economic risks, as well as some potential benefits, said Lexi Hutto an assistant professor of marketing at Millersville University.

Decisions like closing on Sunday can be costly, so they’re unusual in the business world, she said. Businesses that choose to do so are ?”giving up a lot of business to stay true to their convictions.”

But in central Pennsylvania, businesses like a 24/6 truck stop or a theater that only shows Bible stories are unusually common, she said.

Hutto speculates that those choices aren’t calculated business decisions: It’s simply part of the culture here. ?”It’s not forced. It’s not artificial. It’s something that grew naturally.”

There are lots of reasons for the trend, she said. It’s partly the customer base: They’re generally supportive of such decisions. It’s partly the businesses: They’re usually locally-owned, heavily influenced by the founders.

Whatever the reasons, the result is a part of the culture in Pennsylvania Dutch country: A ?”quaint, gentile throwback to another era.”





Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com

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