Bible Bee Boosting Religious Tourism in Tenn. County

Apart from inculcating a culture where families study God's word together, this year's annual National Bible Bee event is also making businesses and officials happy in Tennessee's Sevier County by increasing the number of tourists in the area.

About 1,500 people are staying at Wilderness Lodge and Event Center in Sevierville, Tenn., this week to attend the National Bible Bee, WBIR-TV 10 reports.

Bible Bee, an event where $260,000 in prize money is up for grabs, has come to Sevierville for the first time, and the Sevier County Chamber of Commerce is witnessing an unprecedented growth in the market for faith-based organizations.

"The faith-based market always has been a major player in supporting our tourism economy in Sevier County," Chamber CEO Brenda McCroskey was quoted as saying. "The market is now developing at a rapid pace."

Mark McMahan, CEO of the Bible Bee's sponsor organization, the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, said coming to Sevierville for the fourth annual event was a good choice. "Sevierville was very attractive to us, and the Pigeon Forge Gatlinburg area, very attractive to us because of its family friendly nature," he was quoted as saying. "Certainly the Event Center here being attached to the Wilderness Lodge, and the Smokies was a fabulous location for us."

The Shelby Kennedy foundation is named after a Christian woman who died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 23. Before her death, even in her weakness, Kennedy dedicated her time to studying the Scriptures and proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ to others.

Nationwide participation in the Bible Bee has drastically increased since its inception. Just under 7,000 young people participated at the local level this year – a 20 percent increase from 2011.

Bible Bee kicked off Wednesday in Sevierville, where 300 qualifiers from across the U.S. began competing in events designed to test their knowledge of the Scriptures. The books being focused on during this year's competition are 1 and 2 Timothy – letters written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus.

At the local level, contestants had thoroughly studied 2 Timothy and memorized at least 25 Bible Memory passages. Children in each age division – primary, junior and senior – at the national challenge are also responsible for having thoroughly studied 1Timothy and having memorized several hundred additional verses from throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

The 2012 National Bible Bee concluded Saturday.

Now Sevier's mountain resort city of Pigeon Forge is also focusing on attracting religious tourists from across the country. City mayor David Wear is busy working on the 232,000-square-foot LeConte Center, scheduled to open next year. They are expecting about 40,000 visitors and an $8 million economic impact.