Are Church Weddings Becoming Obsolete?

Remember when June was the time for weddings? Remember when the church was the setting for weddings?

A lot has changed over the years when it comes to the manner and place in which people express their eternal love and commitment to each other. It’s been a few years since I attended a wedding and even longer since I attended a wedding in a church. Couples seem to focus on the aesthetics of the venue and having a unique setting, and I wonder what that says about the role of the local church in our culture.

While there’s certainly no commandment in Scripture that says people must be married in a church, tradition has dictated that when you are a church-going person with church-going friends, you have your wedding in a church. From my limited vantage point, it seems that isn’t the norm anymore.

A quick Google search will reveal the trends in wedding venues. According to TheKnot.com, breweries have replaced wineries as the trendiest wedding venues. They point out that barns and lofts are still trending, but distilleries, ranches, and greenhouses are on the rise.

Why is this happening? Before we hit the panic button, I think it’s important to think about the ways in which the church is still a leading wedding venue. But among people who want a traditional wedding, the church is still the place to be.

But which church they select is often based more on aesthetics than on personal connection. It’s still up for debate if it’s more meaningful to be married in a visually interesting church building than a plain church in which you have progressed on your journey of faith.

Admittedly I’m not much of a wedding fan. I survived my own, which was supposed to be outdoors at our church, but had to be moved into the sanctuary because of rain. When it was all said and done, we were still just as married and the ceremony was just as meaningful. It was probably more memorable because of the last-minute change in venue, but overall, we could rubber stamp that day as “mission accomplished.”

Weddings, though, aren’t for people like me. They are really for the romantics who want things to look and be just right. And increasingly, weddings are a statement about the interests and character of the couple. People like to be different and not just default to same thing their parents did.

That’s probably the number one reason church weddings seem to be declining. There is a generational shift away from the church as the center of activity in people’s lives. Why that is can be discussed another time in another post, but I believe the slowing number of church weddings is symptomatic of a societal shift. I don’t believe couples are actively resisting having their wedding at a church, it just doesn’t occur to them. And for those faith traditions that reject consumption of alcohol, the real culprit is the reception. People like the convenience of having the service and reception in the same location, and their home church may have convictions, if not explicit policies, prohibiting alcohol on the premises.

I’m not judging those who choose not to marry in a church. I have been to incredibly meaningful, Christ-centered, worshipful ceremonies outside of a church. But I do wonder what this shift might suggest about the future of our facilities.

Do me a favor, let me know if I’m off base here. Leave a comment with the date of the last church wedding you attended. If it was recent, what were the circumstances? Why did the couple choose to have their wedding at a church? Did they have a connection to that church? And be sure to share what you are seeing this wedding season.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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Comments

  1. Alan Hommerding says

    While card shopping at Target (though not for a wedding card), I saw a card that said on the front: “Your ceremony will be the most beautiful twenty minutes between drinks we’ve every had.” That about sums it up.

    As a church musician for 3+ decades, I can attest – and so can my fellow musicians – to the real drop-off in church weddings. Even churches with still-substantial congregations find that the overall aging of the congregation means far fewer weddings, and fewer baptisms. Even when I now meet with a couple to plan their church wedding, I can’t presume that they have any idea at all what goes on in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning. No longer can I use “then we have scripture readings, just like on Sunday.” It will, as often as not, elicit blank stares.

    Part of the problem, of course, is that the U.S. got clergy mixed up in the civil/legal marriage side of it all. Many mixed-faith, or one-faith/no faith (or some variation thereof), find it easier to have a legal officiant on the beach. There is a degree to which I admire the young couples no longer caving in to the pressure of previous generations to have a church wedding (though Baby Boomers are not likely to pressure their children into things), for at least they’re not being hypocritical that the church plays a role in their lives equal to that of their relationship.

  2. jason maderer says

    1 of the last 5 weddings we’ve attended or been invited was in a church. of those that weren’t, i don’t believe any of the couples actively went to church before the ceremony. i think that drives it for many. no connection, no church wedding.

    we got married in a church, sir! her church! but my priest played an active role.

    go jackets

  3. Terri Hurst says

    3 months ago church friends got married in our church. They adamantly wanted a church wedding because our church is their “second home.” Two weeks ago we attended a wedding at a venue – wedding outside and reception inside on the same property. Very Christ-centered. Next weekend we’re attending another just like it (not sure how Christ-centered it will be). I think part of it is the age of the couple and part is the connection to a specific church. In our church, most weddings include Eucharist, which makes it an hour or so. And so it feels more like a regular church service with readings and a homily and communion. But I know most denominations don’t do it like we do. 🙂

  4. Jessica Asbell says

    As a minister, I always expected and planned to have my wedding in a church. But as someone getting married in November, I can tell you that I am not getting married in a church like I expected. Although I love my home church, it was almost $1000 cheaper to have my wedding in the same place as my reception. Since I am at church every week, I’m okay not getting married in a church. My pastor will do the wedding, but $1000 is a lot of money, not to mention the hassle of moving many senior adults from one place to another. I think part of it might be the cost of churches, that perhaps they don’t want to deal with the issues that comes with being a place that hosts a lot of weddings.

    • Katie Cummings says

      Congrats, Jessica! I had a really similar experience with my wedding last October. It was much cheaper to have the wedding at a venue other than the church, and the venue could accommodate both the ceremony and the reception in a way that was easier on those with mobility troubles. The church had a long list of strict rules for the reception, including not using any music with lyrics (even hymns) and not allowing any dancing except the first dance.

  5. The most recent wedding I attended (this spring) was actually in a church. How refreshing! The bride was Catholic and I believe she had a personal connection to the Cathedral venue. The groom was Protestant. The church actually had some guidelines about non-revealing bridal gowns and the bride looked gorgeous. I am all for couples expressing their uniqueness, but it seems like the swing to non-church weddings is a bandwagon thing. More about the party than the commitment ritual in some instances??

  6. Carra Greer says

    The last wedding I attended was a beautiful church wedding in an open and affirming church with two beautiful brides. They wanted a church wedding because they love their church and feel welcomed and supported there. It was lovely and probably the most thoughtful wedding I’ve been to in quite a while.

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