Two years ago, Facing the Giants, a low-budget sports movie made by volunteers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, grossed $10 million on a budget of only $100,000.

This year, Sherwood scored a bigger hit when Fireproof, a marriage-in-crisis movie made for $500,000, surpassed even the $25 million take of Big Idea's 2002 film, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. (It has currently earned $28,327,659, according to

But while Fireproof drew large audiences, Billy: The Early Years of Billy Graham bombed. Made for a reported $5 million, the film earned just $347,000 in its first three weeks and dropped out of theaters. Fireproof averaged $8,148 per theater in its opening weekend; Billy averaged a mere $681.

Billy producer Larry Mortorff said Fireproof's success, ironically, might have hurt his film. "Maybe the Christian world can only take one Christian film at a time, and Fireproof may have taken that spot." Mortorff said his team was strategizing a "second wave" of theatrical releases, and was confident they would break even with DVD sales and TV deals.

Fireproof's distributors, including Christian label Provident and secular outfit Samuel Goldwyn, credit the film's success to its subject matter's universal appeal, and to the fact that it was produced by people in the pews, who represent its intended audience. The film was also promoted on the Dr. Phil show, which devoted an episode to the theme of "fireproofing your marriage."

Fireproof's success goes beyond the film itself: The Love Dare, a book tie-in cowritten by director Alex Kendrick and his producer, brother Stephen (both pastors at Sherwood), sold 600,000 copies within weeks, reaching No. 1 on The New York Times list of best-selling paperback advice books.

Alex Kendrick says he expects a bigger budget for Sherwood's next film, though he and his team have not decided on a story line. But with the extra money comes the challenge of balancing the ministry with improved artistry—a challenge partly met with Fireproof by casting as its lead Kirk Cameron, who essentially worked for free.

"We want to utilize our church members as much as possible, but at the same time we do recognize that at some point," Kendrick says, "you have to go beyond church members to keep improving the craft."

Craig Detweiler, codirector of the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary, says the Kendricks have figured out how to connect with an audience that doesn't go to the movies much. That's because, he says, they are pastors who work with "real people and their everyday struggles" all the time.

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today Movies reviewed Fireproof, wrote about its success, interviewed actor Kirk Cameron, and wrote about the church behind the movie.

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