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Sherwood, the movie-making ministry

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By Ben Roberts - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) -  Albany doesn't often get international attention, but people around the world are learning about Albany for something that would have seemed preposterous just a few years ago.

In 2003, Sherwood Baptist Church scraped together $20,000 to make a movie with a Christian message. Their film enterprise has turned into a multi-million dollar business.

But the folks this movie-making church don't count their success by how much money they make but by how many lives they change.

Sherwood Baptist Church has been a big church, a vibrant church, a church worshipping and doing the Lord's work in Albany, Georgia for a lot of years.

The story of how it became a movie-making church changing lives around the world-- Well, that sounds a little like something from a Hollywood script.

"Alex and I grew up wanting to make movies, and God led us here to Sherwood," said Movie Writer and Producer Stephen Kendrick. 

Stephen Kendrick and his brother Alex, associate ministers at Sherwood, dreamed of making movies with a message.

"We said why don't we take this very powerful, influential media and communicate the best messages in the world of faith, hope, and love," said Stephen Kendrick. 

Senior Pastor Michael Catt said why just dream? "He said I'd like to make Christian movies, but I don't think a church would let me do that, and I said 'Why not?'"

So, six years ago on a shoestring budget, the Kendricks wrote, produced, directed, shot, and edited a little movie called "Flywheel." They didn't let the fact that they didn't really know what they were doing hold them back.

"We finished the movie the day that it premiered here at our local theater," said Kendrick. 

The film about an unscrupulous used car salesman who found business success only after he found Jesus and a conscience played on a handful of movie screens and in lots of churches and eventually sold 300,000 DVD's.

"We're still hearing stories of people being impacted by that," said Kendrick. 

The next movie, Facing the Giants, started with a budget five times bigger and better equipment, but stuck with local volunteer actors and shooting locations around Albany.

"With each movie we do desire the production to get better," said Kendrick. 

"Facing the Giants" told the story of a down-on-their-luck high school football coach and team whose faith turned around a miserable season and more than a few lives.

"We've never claimed to be Academy Award winning with the things that we've done. Our goal has been to change lives, and that's the target that we've been aiming at the whole time, and that's exactly what we're seeing happen," said Kendrick. 

"Facing the Giants" got the attention of Hollywood and a distribution deal with Sony Pictures and was seen by big crowds at theaters around the country.

"It helped our people to think big and to think great and to think," said Catt.

The next movie exploded. Sony was in on "Fireproof" from the beginning. So were acting coaches, a few more professionals behind the cameras, and real Hollywood star Kirk Cameron in front of the cameras.

"Kirk loved it. He loved the environment because it was such a family," said Kendrick.

"Fireproof" told the story of a fireman who turned to God to turn around and re-ignite his failing marriage. And it was a hit.

 "For 'Fireproof' to open at number four in the nation on opening weekend last September was totally beyond our expectations," said Kendrick.

It brought in more than $33 million at the box office, number 83 on the list of 2008's top grossing films outpacing movies starring such Hollywood heavyweights as George Clooney, Kevin Costner, and Meryl Streep.

"It has built our faith at Sherwood," said Kendrick.

"Fireproof" has sold around 2.3 million DVD's, one of the top 15 sellers this year.

 "We never set out to make money. We never set out to be big. We did all of this to try to see changed lives, to try to give a positive message of the difference that Christ can make," said Catt.

A companion book to "Fireproof" called "The Love Dare" remains on the New York Times Best Sellers List after more than 42 weeks, and Sherwood has partnered with more than 100 marriage ministries around the country.

"Our expectations have been exceeded at every level," said Kendrick.

Church leaders and members associated with the movie have traveled the country speaking to couples and church groups and hearing stories about how "Fireproof" is saving marriages.

"Little girl in a classroom in San Antonio talking about how her dad abused her mom and abandoned the family, but after he saw Fireproof came back home and apologized and gave his heart to Christ, and the little girl is crying in her classroom reading her paper, saying I'm thankful for the fire movie," said Kendrick.

And the fire movie has attracted people from around the world to Albany.

"We've had people from 35 states and from Canada and Brazil that have come to Albany to visit the church because of the movie," Catt said.

And these movie makers give all the credit for that attention and success to God.

"We don't have the training and the resources and the experience to be making movies, but yet God is using us like the little boy with five loaves and two fish, and he's taking the little effort that we have, and he's multiplying it and he's impacting people," said Kendrick.

"We want to make a difference, and we want to leave a legacy," said Kendrick.

A legacy, not just of movie-making, but of doing the Lord's work in Albany and in places far beyond.

The Sherwood movie makers are working on a story outline for their next project, they haven't started writing a script yet.

They wouldn't tell me what it will be about but promise to make a public announcement when they're a little further along.

They'll probably shoot next year and release it in theaters in 2011.



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