When Pastor Michael Catt (left, courtesy Sherwood Baptist Church) challenged his congregation to reach the world from Albany, Georgia, making movies that would reach around the world may not have been exactly what he was thinking of. But now with two films behind them and a third just weeks from release, it’s apparent that’s one of the ways Sherwood Baptist Church is living out the great commission.
Working with a great team that includes executive pastor Jim McBride (right, courtesy Sherwood Baptist Church), Pastor Catt is helping the church successfully navigate through the sudden onslaught of attention that has come their way. With each team member bringing their unique expertise to the table, which includes Jim’s years of experience managing Coca-Cola operations, they work tirelessly to have excellence in all they do.
Pastor Catt, can you tell us about watching the film ministry develop, and when you realized this was a viable outreach tool?
Pastor Catt: It started with Flywheel. We had a discussion about making movies, which was in the context of reaching the world from Albany, Georgia. Typically, as a Southern Baptist Church, we think that’s what happens when we give in Christmas and Easter offerings to mission. But I was asking how do we get beyond that and begin to impact the culture?
We had a conversation and talked about making a movie. We never thought it would be more than maybe our local theater letting us show it. Then God blessed that. It stayed in the theater for six weeks and Blockbuster picked it up in about 300 of their stores. Then they added it to the rest of their stores.
From there, we went to Facing the Giants, still without any major distribution. Our goal with that was to maybe get 12 – 15 theaters in Georgia to show it. We thought that would be incredible. We never set out to be successful in the film business. We just set out to be faithful to what God had
given us in the church.
He had given us the team of
Alex and Stephen and Jim and I. He gave us a church with the willingness to do it in a prayer environment and in unity. Because of that, God was able to do some things with us that were pretty amazing, and we step back and say, “Only God.”
If you didn’t set out to be successful in the film business, what kind of success were you looking for?
To touch people’s hearts and lives. That’s really what our goal was. We’ve had emails from probably 6000 people around the world that have prayed to receive Christ because of Facing the Giants. We’ve heard from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Baghdad. From people in the Ukraine. You name it, we’ve got emails from people that have experienced God touching their lives. And that’s success for us, that it has actually impacted someone to the point that God has changed their life, or their perspective on life.
As you have come through this process with a third film, how have you seen the dynamic of the church change? Both in what happens on a weekly basis, and the general direction of the church?
Pastor McBride: As each movie has progressed, the amount of involvement has also grown. In this past movie, we had just over 1000 members physically involved in the making of the movie, and many more participating through our prayer ministry.
When we were initially challenged by the vision that Pastor Catt gave us, to reach the world from Albany, Georgia, we believed that if we would be faithful and obedient right where we were, God would do miraculous things in our midst. So now for them to see these first two movies released in 56 countries, 13 languages around the world, and realize that vision has come true, it has created momentum in our church.
We just finished a “Freedom Festival” project at our church for 10,000 people in our community. They came together for a patriotic celebration around July 4th. It’s easy to cast vision and see people want to get involved when they’ve taking on the understanding of what was said in Facing the Giants: with God, all things are possible. It’s really created a lot of momentum and unity in the body.
Do you see more and other creative people coming forward because of the success of the films?
Pastor Catt: Sherwood is a regional church. We draw from 29 towns around Albany, so we have people that drive as much as an hour, which in rural Georgia (unlike Atlanta) is real miles and real time. Our minister of music Mark Willard wrote the score for all three movies. He’s written some original worship music that other churches are using.
I think the thing for us is that we are constantly working to make sure that we are the church that somebody might think we are. We’ve had people from 20 states come visit the church because of Facing the Giants. They’re coming with a high level of expectation, and if we’re just flippant about what we do on Sunday, and don’t work with excellence on our worship and how we greet people, and meet people and how we serve people, then there’s a disconnect. “So you’re excellent at making movies, but you don’t really care about what you’re doing”
Our movies are an extension of what we’re trying to do on a daily basis with our ministries. We don’t stop moving in day-to-day ministries to make movies. We still have jobs. I still have to preach, Jim still has to be the executive pastor. Alex and Stephen still have responsibilities to the church. Making the movies is added on top of that.
It’s not as glamorous as people might think it is. It’s a lot of 18-hour days during that stretch. Our people work jobs during the day, and then come to the set and work all night. If you read the credits on Fireproof, you see people listed as “babysitters,” and they’re just as important as anyone else in the film.
Jim, you mentioned in a previous conversation that you make decisions as a team. Can you talk about that process and how it has evolved in the last few years?
Pastor McBride: The four of us all have different areas of responsibility in the projects. Everything from writing to marketing to directing to vision. So when we meet together, whether it’s to pray about the project, or if one of us informs the team about one particular thing, we have an agreement that we don’t move forward on anything new unless we’re all four in unity after prayer that that’s the direction we need to head.
The Lord has blessed that in the diversity of our team. We’ve seen it in protection for decision-making and many other ways.
In the team, I handle all the contracts and negotiations. I’ve also had a role in all of the movies.
I caught the Tootsie Roll pop scene.
Pastor McBride: That wasn’t intended. I was on the set doing it as a joke to play on Alex. They finished the scene, and while we were all still sitting there, Alex gave them the orders to take the cameras down. I didn’t realize it, then when I did, I told Alex, “It was just a joke,” and he said, “It’s too late now. It’s in the movie.”
Pastor Catt, what’s your role?
Pastor Catt: I think it’s to give freedom to the guys to do what they do. I don’t get into the contract negotiations with Jim. He’s on regular conference calls – constantly. He kind of minimizes his role, but there is no role or partnership with anybody without Jim’s touching all those places. We want to free Alex and Steve up to write, edit, and direct, and not have to think about things on the other side of the coin.
My job is to make sure, not only for the team, but for the entire church, that we continue moving in the right direction. We don’t want to lose Jerusalem trying to reach the world. We don’t want the movies to become all that we’re about, and I want the church to understand this is a part of what we do, this is not all that we do.
Is it a part of your vision to keep the films cast mostly from within the church body?
Pastor McBride: Our philosophy is that everything the Lord did, He did with excellence, so our goal is to strive for excellence in everything that we do. That’s our goal for this ministry, to strive for excellence in making the movies. We’ve had a lot of success in doing that with the team God has placed at Sherwood.
This last movie was a unique opportunity because we had gone through all the casting and felt like we didn’t have the right person to play the part of Caleb. We knew Kirk from his ministry, so we asked Kirk to come in and audition for that part. We believe it was God’s will for that project.
A big key for us is that they have acting ability, but also have a relationship with Christ and live what they believe. That being said, our goal is always going to be that our church is the one that owns the movies and produces the movies. That’s where the Lord placed the vision: at the church.
We’re going to work inside that context, but if the Lord opens up a door similar to the one with Kirk, we’ll look outside. But the starting point is inside the body of the church.
Pastor Catt: The other thing with that is if you look at Fireproof, very few people in Fireproof were in the previous two movies. Most of those people that are new are new to the church. So we believe that God sends us what we need.
The African-American guy who plays Caleb’s best friend came to us from the Marine base in Albany. He’s in Kuwait right now. We asked him to audition for that part, and he did, and did a great part in that role. He wasn’t in the church when we did Facing the Giants.
One or two of the nurses, maybe none of them, were in the church when we did Facing the Giants. I think they’ve all moved to the church and joined it since we did Facing the Giants. That’s God giving us what we need.
Pastor Catt, Erin Bethea (Catherine) is your daughter, so how did it feel seeing her in this role?
Pastor Catt: When Alex, Stephen and Jim felt like she was in the final group of people to be considered, my wife and I (my wife helped with casting) removed ourselves from that process. We never wanted it to be about that. Bethea is her stage name. She has a theater degree and works in entertainment for Disney in Orlando.
It’s a little surreal to see that. It’s been her dream all her life, and I think she will tell you that she came to audition for a small part, intending to take a few days off work to do the film. She never intended to do that role.
What kind of reaction in the body of your church are you seeing now that the film is complete?
Pastor Catt: We talked from that beginning that our marriages were going to come under attack. You just can’t do a movie on marriage and have the devil go wait on the sidelines until you’re through. So we’ve talked as a team, as a church, that we need to raise our prayer temperature a lot because this is an area that will be attacked. We’ve got a great guy on our staff that does pre-marriage and marriage counseling.
We’ve seen a few people willing to come for counseling, because of the topic of the film. In casting, Jim asks if there is anything in people’s closet that, if it came out, would bring shame to the Gospel or to Sherwood Pictures. So we’ve had people in all our movies that have said, “You know what? I don’t need to be in this. There are areas of my life that I’m not right with God right now.”
To their credit, more than wanting to be in a movie, they knew they needed to be right with God.
Pastor McBride: When Alex and I have had that conversation, it’s been two-on-one in a private conversation. When we start out, we ask them to share their personal testimony. Then we ask that question. We ask that about the people we partner with in distribution. That’s not to say that everybody that’s in a Sherwood movie, or works on a Sherwood movie are perfect, but to the best degree possible, we want to honor the Lord by doing what we said in Facing the Giants. The concept of “prepare for rain” is important to us. That means do all you can to put yourself in a position so that if God so chooses to bless this project, then we’ve prepared ourselves and been obedient.
Who came up with the concept of The Love Dare, and did Alex and Stephen write it? Has anyone worked through that personally?
Pastor McBride: We’ve looked at different days, but it’s just been published. When we get copies back at the church, we’ll go through it.
Of the days you saw portrayed in the film, what would be an easy task to do, and maybe one that would be more challenging?
Pastor Catt: I think that, name the day, it’s always challenging to love your wife unconditionally. By our fallen nature, we’re selfish and when you talk about 40 days, that’s really the challenge. There will always be days when you say, “You know what, I want someone to do that for me.” We get selfish and self-centered real easy as human beings.
Part of the forty days is to establish a pattern where you’re thinking that way, and it’s part of your spiritual DNA.