CAIRO, Ga. (BP) — Nothing for years had ever interfered with the Sunday lunch “Granny” Inez Harrell has served at her home after church services at a small Baptist church where the 83-year-old serves as treasurer.
But after joining her son Kelvin and daughter-in-law Tamra for an Aug. 29 showing of “War Room” at the single-screen Zebulon Theatre, the only movie house in Cairo, Ga., Granny changed her Sunday afternoon priorities.
“You need to go get Kelvin and get him in here and y’all need to eat because I have to leave,” Granny told the couple at the Aug. 30 lunch, Tamra’s sister Mary Jane Holt told Baptist Press. “They had never been met like that and Tamra says, ‘Well where do you have to go?’ She said, ‘Well, I’m taking [one] of my friends to see War Room.’ So they have to get their food and rush and get out so Granny can go back to the movie.”
Granny’s story is among many that have been told since the latest Kendrick Brothers’ film opened as the top box office draw on Aug. 28, finishing its opening weekend in second place with total earnings of $11 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Hundreds of additional theaters are adding the movie today (Sept. 4) and the following week, Provident Films reported.
War Room stars noted Bible teachers Priscilla Shirer in a lead role and Beth Moore in the supporting cast. Shirer is cast as a young wife and mother who heeds the advice of an older, wiser woman to establish a room in her home for prayer — a war room — and to pray earnestly for her husband, marriage, child and home.
It was the first movie Granny, known to family and friends as a prayer warrior, had attended in years. She saw the film three times in the opening weekend, including a 7:30 p.m. showing that kept her from her usual Sunday evening church routine at First Free Will Baptist Church in Cairo, Holt said.
“That night at church after church is dismissed, they go to find her to give her the money for the collection and they can’t find Granny,” Holt said. “Somebody goes by her house and she’s already at home with [a mother and daughter] so she can take them to see War Room on Sunday night. Granny is a prayer warrior and has been all of her life, so she knows what a war closet is. She just keeps going to see the movie, and she’s told everybody if you want to go to see it, you come and I’ll take you.”
Audiences have broken into spontaneous prayer and praise openly in theater lobbies after viewing the film, director Alex Kendrick said in a video on the movie’s website thanking viewers for supporting the film about the power of a focused, disciplined prayer life.
“There was an African American church and a predominantly white church leaving the theater at the same time. They met in the lobby, began talking, a prayer time broke out, and then they just started praising God with song in the atrium of this theater,” Kendrick said, “linking arms and praying together, and with the theater employees going ‘What in the world is going on here?’ It was like a church service.
“Yet another group said that spontaneous prayer broke out in the theaters,” Kendrick said, sharing emails and comments he has received from viewers. “The movie was finishing, and patrons that had bought tickets were gathering together among the seats and praying together for God to do something incredible in their city. That’s the type of response that we were hoping for. We hope to see much more of it.”
Pastors and viewers reported 61 salvations among movie viewers as of Sept. 1, Kendrick said.
“They’ve notified us,” Kendrick said in the video, “or a pastor that led them to the Lord notified us, and so we know this. So 61 so far; we’re praying for hundreds more. So we praise God. He gets all credit and glory.”
Ken Polk, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., used the movie to kick-off a September “30 Days of Prayer” emphasis at the Southern Baptist Church that draws about 800–900 Sunday worshippers.
He took nearly 500 members to view the movie Aug. 30, filling three auditoriums at the Wynnsong 16 Theater in Murfreesboro. The church subsidized tickets, allowing viewers to see the film for $5 each.
“It is really a fine creative ministry to raise people’s awareness of the need for prayer,” Polk told BP. “I would say of War Room, it probably is, I think, about the most theologically sound of the Christian movies made in our generation. It really did speak to truth in so many ways, from what sin does to marriages, to what a real relationship with Christ is, to real repentance.
“That was really rich in the movie how they were not afraid to speak to the subject of real repentance, real life changing decisions. That means a lot to a pastor when you have commercialized products like that out there,” Polk said. “I appreciated that aspect of it; it said if you want to have a real relationship with God, there is some cost to this. There’s a price to pay for genuine discipleship.”
The movie is the Kendrick brothers’ first project independent of Sherwood Pictures, the filmmaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., where both brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick are associate pastors. While the brothers have always included multi-cultural casts, War Room features African Americans in all leading roles.
The movie matriarch and prayer warrior “Miss Clara” is played by Karen Abercrombie. T.C. Stallings, who played a gang leader in “Courageous,” play’s husband to Shirer’s role of Elizabeth Jordan, and Alena Pitts plays their daughter Danielle.
K. Marshall Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he appreciates the cultural diversity of the cast.
“I applaud the Kendrick Brothers, for casting a multiplicity of African Americans in lead roles. It was a blessing to behold,” Williams told Baptist Press. “I pray that through this movie, many would receive Jesus as their personal Savior and begin to grow and trust Him as Lord of their lives.”
Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, noted the movie’s value as a discipleship tool.
“War Room is an awesome movie that everybody ought to see. It demonstrates to every blood-bought, born-again believer that has been birthed into the Body of Christ, that we need to fight the battle where the battle really is,” Williams said. “The movie taught us that there is power in releasing our stresses, strains and struggles to the Lord in persistent passionate prayer. We need to fight our battles in fasting and with prayer on our knees.”