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My blog earlier today was about the new Tea Party documentary due out this fall.  It’s emphasis is the national debt.  It’s the right thing to do:  We need to engage the culture and reach out.  Consider another movie trend:  Churches and believers making independent movies.  I am sure Hollywood laughed when they heard that this Baptist church in rural Georgia was producing a football movie.  They should have been right:

Hollywood veterans will tell you that if a low-budget movie makes it into theaters, it’s a miracle.

Here’s the scenario, perhaps worthy of a Disney plot:

The movie is the benefit of a highly targeted marketing plan and the latest success for Sherwood Pictures, a tiny production company affiliated with Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., about 100 miles southwest of Macon. It was directed by Alex Kendrick, 38, and written by Mr. Kendrick and his brother, Stephen, 35, with the church’s senior pastor, Michael Catt, serving as an executive producer.

They stopped laughing very quickly:

Their second movie, Facing the Giants, about a struggling high school football team, was picked up by Sony Pictures and ended up being shown in more than 1,000 theaters. Produced on a $100,000 budget, the film brought in $10.1 million in box office receipts, was translated into 13 languages and was shown in more than 50 nations. Stephen Kendrick rattles off a list of the film’s other accomplishments: “The DVD was the No. 1 one audio-visual product in Christian bookstores in 2006. … It was featured as an in-flight movie on Turkish Airlines.

“Disney cruises showed it in the cabins on all of their ships; kids in China produced their own version of it; the NFL passed it out; it was shown in public schools; 8,500 churches bought a license to show it to their congregations; and it was listed among the Top 10 sports movies of 2006 by Sports Illustrated magazine.”

Not bad for Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia!  (Of course the Lord Jesus gets the credit!)  Their next movie was even better; Fireproof garnered 6.5 million dollars its first week (It had already made a profit in that the production costs were only $500,000!) on its way to over $33 million in receipts.  (That does not include DVD sales of over another $31 million.  Maybe Sherwood should bail out the Federal Government!)
The Sherwood Baptist phenomenon has now encouraged other churches to try the movie business.  Sherwood is discipling others in the tough film business.  In USA Today of July 19, 2010, Sherwood’s fourth movie (Courageous []) is the lead story but others are starting out.  One is a Nazarene church (bloggers note – this happens to be my denomination) in Memphis, inspired by a local optometrist who previously did the Easter pageants at his church:

David Evans, a Memphis-area optometrist, was moved to tears at a screening of Fireproof and promptly vowed to step up to a new level with his volunteer work — running lavish Easter productions for 600-member Calvary Church of the Nazarene in Cordova, Tenn., near Memphis.

He consulted Sherwood, which has done filmmaking boot camps and a DVD of tips and techniques for churches, then he brought in a professional writer to polish his script and put up $450,000 of his savings to underwrite The Grace Card.

Evans says: “I wanted a modern script that gives people something to grab hold of when they leave the theater. Hollywood misses out because it is not giving people something deeper to digest.”

The Grace Card has Louis Gossett, Jr. as the lead actor.  Another pioneer is a Quaker couple, Chris and Denise Bueno, in one of the largest churches of its denomination (Yorba Linda, CA):

In Not Today, “we won’t shrink from using the name of Jesus, but it’s part of the story,” says Chris Bueno, who co-produced the film with his wife, Denise, for Yorba Linda Friends Church, one of the world’s largest Quaker congregations.

“Some Christians want very overtly Christian messages. Others want to see gritty truthful stories of people struggling with faith, who may not lead perfect lives but are genuinely seeking,” Denise Bueno says.

Not Today‘s web site is

It is not clear the ultimate impact of believing movies.

In Not Easily Broken, with a leading cast including Oscar-nominated Taraji P. Henson, the gritty plot (with some non-Sherwood language and scenes) still points to eternal values (a married couple will have temptations and crises but need to stay together anyway and let God lead) but it did not do nearly as well at the box office as FireproofThe Secrets of Jonathan Sperry also has a leading actor:  Gavin MacLeod and a Bible-based plot but the film only had a limited distribution effort and thus little return.

However, Amazing Grace did well even as a period piece and a documentary-style story:  The end of the slave trade in the UK combined with the confessions of the author of the iconic and eponymous hymn.   In One Night With the King, the story of Esther is told in a powerful way with a clever plot twist:  Haman is a anti-semite with a Nazi-style symbol.  However, it lost money at the box office. In Bella, the message is quiet but powerful.  Metanoia films (the word is Greek for repentance) cleared about five million dollars.

Some movies may not be designed to make money but send a message:  In End of the Spear (a searing film about the power of forgiveness amid martyrdom), the movie broke even but is inspiring to see the the commitment of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and the other missionaries martyred to bring the Gospel to the Auca tribe and Saint’s son’s encounter with one of the natives who was involved in the martyrdom.  This is only a few examples.

Money is not the measure of effectiveness; faithfulness to the Bible and the calling of God is the touchstone.  However, it is encouraging to see fellow followers of Christ engage with the world instead of just condemning it.  There is tremendous potential for outreach and evangelism:

Neither Stephen nor Alex Kendrick had any formal training in filmmaking. But in 2002 the brothers read a Barna Group study that changed their lives and ministries. “I found a survey that basically said the top three most influential factors in our culture were movies, television and the Internet,” Alex Kendrick says. “The church wasn’t even in the top 10.”

There is a small but growing audience for this type of film.  Churches also can be a powerful force to market these movies:

The marketing was handled by Sony’s Provident Films, which seeks out Christians at the grass-roots level. Ministry leaders and members of the Christian press were invited to the set in Albany, and private screenings were held around the country. Advance sales also helped; on the first weekend of release 98 theaters were in communities where at least 1,000 tickets had been presold, said Kris Fuhr, Provident’s vice president for theatrical marketing.

May God bless all the followers of Jesus in the movie business!

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)


  1. Greg L says:

    I’ve seen a bunch of these and have been truly inspired by them, especially since I’m in the media production business and have done a lot of work for churches. The challenges are daunting, though, as turning a script (if you can find the right one) into a motion picture is an effort almost beyond imagination in dedication, perseverance, faith, financial commitment, and pure sweat.

    Doing one of these would be like a dream job – working 16 hour days every day putting everything you have on the line for the Lord, and still being able to support your family while doing it. There’s a real market for this, I’m convinced, but it has to be done right, it has to be done well, and just because it’s a ministry doesn’t mean you get to make something boring or uninspired.

    Sherwood has really blazed the trail, making incredible films that are so right in many respects. Now a lot of us are hoping that the spirit calls us to do the same thing.

    Waiting for that call. Let it come soon.

    • Sandy Sanders


      I appreciate your positive comments and your suggestion about the hardship it takes to do a quality movie. I would pray and seek the Spirit’s guidance and that He will open doors. Maybe one of these other movie companies mentioned in the USA Today article is looking for help. We might be helping in the same movie!

      Sandy Sanders

  2. Brent Bielema says:

    There was an article similar to this in a recent ‘American Profile’ or one of those other newspaper-insert tabloids — and they mentioned a couple of recent Robert Duvall films that had a theme of redemption. And there’s another movie coming out called ‘Like Dandelion Dust,’ starring Mira Sorvino, which has a spiritual theme. As long as the big studios do a good job with the stories, I don’t see a problem with this. But I would hope that more independent film makers would rise to the challenge and give them some serious competition — while providing more uplifting family fare to hungry audiences!


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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