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Ala. churches bring 'Sperry' movie to town

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)--After seeing a screening of "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry" at a North Carolina conference, worship pastor Andy Hadley knew the movie was something the members of his church -- Cropwell Baptist -- would have to see.

And it was a good thing, because if it were not for the St. Clair Baptist Association church's $2,000 sponsorship, then the movie may have never come to the church's town, Oxford, Ala.

In fact, it was because of similar sponsorships by Southern Baptist churches around the state that the movie also hit theaters in Athens, Birmingham, Cullman, Daphne, Dothan, Enterprise, Florence, Gulf Shores, Huntsville and Mobile. As of early November, the movie will have played in more than 240 theaters nationwide.

Set in 1970, "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry" is a coming-of-age tale of three 12-year-old boys as they deal with bullies, girls and spiritual formation with the guidance of 75-year-old Jonathan Sperry, played by Gavin MacLeod of "The Love Boat" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

"I think the movie has been making a great impact. We've gotten a lot of great response.... But we need the church to help us promote it," said director and producer Rich Christiano. "We need grass-roots promotions to make it effective."

The grass-roots promotion is executed through a sponsorship investment, he said. A church pays $2,000 to sponsor the movie in a local theater for a week. After that, replay is determined by audience demand. Once Christiano's company receives its portion of the ticket sales, the first $2,000 earned is returned to the invested church, as well as a portion of the additional earnings to be used for ministry at its discretion.


"Instead of complaining about bad movies in Hollywood, we were being proactive and having something out there that's positive," Hadley said of his church's decision to sponsor the movie. "We decided that even if we don't get a dime back, it was worth our supporting and doing."

But Cropwell Baptist received more than a dime back. It received its full investment and saw the movie run for three consecutive weeks.

"The film has done well enough that it's no risk to the church but it's a good tool and it's something God has used," said Brett Pitman, associate pastor of education and outreach for Highland Park Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals.

"Media is a very powerful force in our world, and the sad thing is for a long time as the church and as Christians, we have shied away from it. The typical response a lot of times for those of us as Christians in the world is if we don't like something, we just wash our hands of it and be done.

"But one of God's primary works is that He is a God of redemption, and so we need to be trying to redeem things, and I think this is one of those areas."

But redeeming the culture is not going to happen through constant support of entertainment that criticizes Christian beliefs, Christiano said.


"We've got to wake up," he said. ""One-third of the country goes to church ... yet 99.5 percent of movies in theaters have nothing to do with the Lord but rather go against , and Christians flock there every week. The church just complains and plays defense.... We believe the church can play offense with Christ-honoring films that touch lives."

Brittany N. Howerton is a staff writer for The Alabama Baptist (, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. For more information about sponsoring a viewing, contact Christiano at or 949-380-8550. For more information about the movie, visit

Copyright (c) 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press


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