3 Things to Consider When Planning a Church Wedding

A bride and groom in a church after their wedding.

These days, couples can get married pretty much anywhere from the beach to a museum to their tent at Burning Man, and the list goes on. However, a few generations ago there was only one acceptable location for a wedding ceremony—a location that remains popular with traditional couples even today: a church.

There are plenty of reasons to want a church wedding. Maybe you have a deep connection to your faith, or you have fond memories of growing up in the church. Maybe you want to make your traditional relatives happy. Maybe you just think the building is exceptionally beautiful! But whatever your reason for “going to the chapel,” make sure you consider these factors first.

1. Your Church Membership

A bride and groom holding candles and standing in front of a priest at their wedding ceremony.

If you are religious and you want to have a church wedding, your first instinct will probably be to visit your own local church. It’s the place where you worship each week, so it’s bound to be suitable for a wedding ceremony, right? Not always: if your church is too small for your guest list or even too simple for the style you want, you might consider checking out other churches in the area.

Some of the most beautiful churches will open their doors to anyone who wants to use their space. They will rent out the sanctuary to any couple, regardless of faith. However, there are other churches that only allow their members to use their space—and if you find a church you absolutely love, you’ll need to find out which one you’re dealing with.

If you’re already a member of a church, you shouldn’t have any problem getting married there. If you’re not, you may have a little more work to do. Once you find a church you love, the first thing to do is to contact their office. Church employees will be able to tell you where they stand on non-members being married in their sanctuary. They may have no reservations about it, they may reject it outright, they may allow it if you are a member of their faith (though not their specific church), and they may require you to meet with their pastor or take a course (such as Pre-Cana in the Catholic church) before they’ll approve of the ceremony. Be prepared for any response!

2. The Church’s Availability

I have a very big, very religious family, so church events are standard procedure for us. I’ve been to church weddings, baptisms, even birthday masses! And one thing I’ve always found interesting is how busy most churches seem to be. On more than one occasion, my family has been ushered out of the sanctuary to make room for another event. Once we were even hurried out of the space after a funeral so another family could have their wedding!

Obviously, this is bound to happen once in a while. People typically like to celebrate big, important occasions (like weddings) on weekend days, and there are only so many weekends available each year. If a church wants to serve its community appropriately, it will have to double-book from time to time. However, if you are planning on having a church wedding, it’s very important that you know exactly how much time you’re being allotted.

How much time will you have for the actual wedding ceremony? What happens if you’re running late? Will you have time to rehearse the ceremony beforehand? How long will you have to decorate the space? Don’t be afraid to ask these questions right away! The more information you have from the start, the less likely you are to be overwhelmed and stressed out on your special day.

3. Staff and Decor Options for the Church

Wood church pews decorated with flowers and ceremony programs.

I just mentioned “having enough time to decorate,” which is an important part of wedding preparation for many couples. You may want to post custom signs announcing your wedding. You may want to line the aisle with flowers or lay down a runner. You may want to set up an arch over the altar. These ideas are all well and good—unless the church you’ve booked doesn’t allow it.

Some churches are very particular about the decor they’ll permit in their space. Sometimes it’s a logistics issue (flower petals strewn on the ground will stain the carpet); sometimes it’s about aesthetics (to “preserve the natural setting” of the church, California’s Wayfarers Chapel doesn’t allow couples to bring in bows or aisle runners). Either way, it’s important that you know exactly what the church will and won’t allow before you commit to having your wedding there.

Similarly, some churches require that couples use the wedding team they have in-house. This can mean that everyone—the officiant, florist, musicians, wedding coordinator, and even caterer—could be provided by the church. For some couples, this could be great (it takes all the stress out of finding vendors), but for others, this can feel very limiting. Make sure you’re aware of the staff options as soon as possible, as it may shape your decision about booking a particular church.

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