FIRST-PERSON: A church as inspiring as its films

Baptist Press
Posted: Nov 25, 2009 1:15 PM
ALBANY, Ga. (BP)--There are more than enough multi-million-dollar theatrical releases out there with a storyline so boring it makes you wish you had stayed home and watched, say, a rerun of the 6 o'clock news.

Thankfully, there are exceptions, including movies by Sherwood Baptist Church, which knows that the story is king and which gets more done, per-buck, than any Hollywood studio.

Who else can take $500,000 and turn it into a $33.5 grossing movie, as Sherwood did with "Fireproof," the top independent film of 2008? And, who else can get Christian media members from across the nation to fly to Albany, Ga., to hear church officials unveil their next movie's title and theme -- before the script has even been finished, the cast chosen and the first scene shot?

But Sherwood has earned that respect because of its onscreen products, which -- minor flaws and all -- leave you inspired and convicted, even crying. And if tears are any indicator, Sherwood may have another hit on hand with its fourth movie, "Courageous," which will tell the story of how four police officer friends try to become better fathers. Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the two brothers who are the driving force behind the movies, say they regularly shed tears, just writing the script.

"I was a basket case this past week," Stephen Kendrick told me Nov. 15 after the church's announcement. "... A lot of times we'll be describing a scene to one another and we'll be crying ... because of how moving it is to us personally."

Many of those tears are shed thinking about their father, who is 67 and has battled multiple sclerosis since 1984. His impact on them can't be measured. "Our father is in a wheelchair, and he stands in prayer over us every day," Stephen Kendrick said. Other times, they're thinking about their own children: Alex has six kids, Stephen four.

The Kendricks hope Courageous, tentatively set for release in early 2011, influences fathers to be spiritual leaders of their homes just like Fireproof impacted and helped save marriages.

If you're wanting to learn more details about the next movie, though, you're in for a disappointment. The movie's scenes are -- you'll understand shortly -- plastered all over the wall in a guest bedroom at Stephen Kendrick's house. The scenes aren't even in order yet.

"We don't necessarily write from beginning to end," Alex Kendrick said. "We've been working on story development for months and months. We have an entire wall of colored sticky notes and every day we put them a little bit more in order.... Each one is a scene. Then we get to a point where we want to script-write scene and they start to fall into place."

They hope to choose a cast in the coming months and begin shooting anywhere from mid-March to mid-June.

Yet you don't have to wait until 2011 to be inspired. Just take a visit to Albany -- population 75,000 -- and attend one of Sherwood's church services, which people from all over the country and even foreign countries have done, simply because of the church's film ties. I attended a Sunday evening service which was as moving as any Sunday morning service I've ever experienced.

It's something else to see faces from the big screen in a church service, participating as if they are regular folks, which, of course, they are. Keep in mind Sherwood's movies utilize an all-volunteer cast, nearly all of them church members. Ken Bevell -- who played a major role as Michael Simmons in Fireproof -- is part of the praise team. Jason McLeod -- who had a role in Fireproof but is perhaps best known for doing the death crawl in "Facing the Giants" -- is a down-to-earth guy who will be glad to talk some Georgia Bulldog football if you ever get a chance. Mark Willard -- who didn't have an on-screen role but who wrote the musical score for the films -- is the music minister.

With around 1,600 there on a Sunday morning, it's a big congregation, yes, but it's no mega-church. Hundreds of churches are larger. The building is big, sure, but not huge. After watching three films made by a church you've never seen, the church's big-but-not-gigantic size can be surprising. But that's the beauty of it: You finally appreciate the fact that it was God's hand at work in the films' success. No director could randomly take 1,600 people off the street and do what Sherwood has done. God placed these 1,600 people in this church for a purpose. Each film has hundreds of members volunteering, doing everything from catering to costumes to working on the set.

"Almost every Sunday we have somebody that comes to the church to see the 'church that made the movies,'" Sherwood senior pastor Michael Catt said. "And they're shocked that we're a church.... They get this image of, 'This is a movie-production company.' we're just a church. We have worship. We have Bible study. We did kids' ministries. Movies are a part of what we do."

Sherwood -- which gets only a small slice of the revenue and puts it toward various ministries -- is like the sports star who, based on outward appearances, shouldn't succeed, but does. They leave you shaking your head, saying, "How'd they do that?" The Kendricks and others at the church like to say that when making a movie, they're looking for a "God idea, not a good idea."

"Movies do not change peoples' lives. God does," Stephen Kendrick said. "...… But we have seen, at the same time, God speak through a movie and God get ahold of their hearts."

Most of us don't include movie writers and directors in our daily prayer lives, but perhaps it's a good idea to lift up the Kendrick brothers in the coming days as they finish a script that could impact the world once more.

"We hope that men will walk out of the theater and will have really enjoyed the adventure of the action, the drama, the humor, but they'll also walk out of the theater and there's this call to courage inside of them," Stephen Kendrick said. "And they're saying, 'I'm not the man I need to be, but by God's grace I'm going to recommit myself to being what He's called me to do be."

Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For information about Courageous, visit

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