Four men, one calling: To serve and protect.

The latest film from Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of the 3,000-member Sherwood Church in Albany, Ga., tells the story of four sheriff’s deputies who wrestle with the realization that serving and protecting seems easier at work than it is at home.

“Courageous” - with the tagline “honor begins at home” - opens Friday in 900 theaters around the nation, and as with “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof,” pre-release interest in the latest Sherwood film has been fueled by networking with churches and other faith-based organizations.

“It is not just a two-hour diversion,” Elizabeth Fields, of Provident Films, the movie’s distributor, told Baptist Press. “It’s entertainment with a purpose.”

“It is a big deal,” said Jeremy Devine, vice president of marketing for Rave Cinemas in Dallas. Rave Cinemas has more than 1,000 screens in 20 states. “We have interest all across the country, especially in the South.”

Faith-based, church marketing is going to make this film successful, Devine said, adding “There is a lot of group sales interest - a huge amount of church interest.”

Many churches and men’s groups such as Louisiana Men of Christ are purchasing “block” tickets for their own members to invite friends and family. And many churches are requesting private screenings.

Baton Rouge’s Istrouma Baptist Church showed a preview of the movie during Sunday’s services and the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Rev. Jeffery B. Ginn, is preaching an eight-week sermon series based on the themes of the movie.

“This is a challenge to our dads,” Ginn said. “So often wives and mothers are the spiritual leaders in the home. This is a challenge for us as Christian men to step forward and be all God wants us to be.”

The 4,000-member church is participating in prerelease ticket sales, and Ginn is encouraging members to invite non-church friends to attend with them for two afternoon showings on Oct. 2 at the Rave Theater next the Mall of Louisiana.

“I believe 'Courageous’ is going to have a big impact on our families, our city and our nation,” Ginn said.

Louisiana Men of Christ, in addition to promoting the movie through churches, also plans to follow up with study guides and other materials

The Rev. Mark Lubbock, a Methodist pastor and chief executive officer of Louisiana Men of Christ, has seen “Courageous” five times in previews with church and civic leaders.

“I always come away encouraged with what can happen,” he said. “It’s a Christian movie, but it’s also a crossover movie for the general population. Not all viewers may connect with the Christian message but they will certainly connect with the excitement of the story.”

Hollywood was awakened to the potential of faith-based movies with the box office performances of such films as “Jonah: a VeggieTales Movie” in 2002 and “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004.

That awakening helped Sherwood, which makes its films with mostly volunteer actors and crews, get into theaters with “Facing the Giants” in 2006 and “Fireproof” in 2008.

And while those films didn’t approach the blockbuster numbers of “The Passion of Christ,” Sherwood has touted “Fireproof” as the top independent release of 2008.

Devine said it is too soon to say if “Courageous” will be bigger than “Fireproof,” but he expects “it to be on par or even surpass that based on pre-sales.”

People love movies, Devine said, and, from a marketing point-of-view, faith-based movies can successful due to the interest spread from the pulpit.

“If you can find the right affinity groups, churches being the perfect example, or opera fans being another really good example, then there are ways to get movies open without having millions and millions of dollars,” Devine said.

Family values movies do have a place in the mass culture, Devine said, and operators of cinemas welcome them because they bring in people who might normally not attend Hollywood-produced movies.

“We welcome that audience and we realize it re-awakens the fun of communal experiences in audiences that, frankly, may be turned off by other films,” Devine said. “We welcome them re-experiencing movies again.”

• ON THE INTERNET:

http://www.ravecinemas.com/groupsales.aspx

http://www.courageousthemovie.com/

http://www.courageousresources.com/

http://www.sherwoodbaptist.net