by Ted Cunningham
Do you know a pastor who no longer officiates weddings? Do you enjoy them, or would you prefer not to do them? Do they seem like an add-on to your ministry?
Weddings honor marriage. The visual of a man separating from his parents and uniting with his wife esteems marriage as highly valuable. Jesus honored marriage by attending a wedding (John 2:1-2). He then blessed the new couple, their parents, and gathered guests by keeping the celebration going when he turned water into wine (John 2:3-11). Your attendance and participation at a wedding honors marriage and blesses the couple.
Unfortunately, many churches and pastors today shy away from officiating weddings. Some keep a preaching schedule and have a leadership assignment that can’t handle the extra workload. Larger churches with multiple weekend services find it difficult to turn the facility over from a wedding chapel to a church auditorium. Sadly, many church leaders now see weddings as an inconvenience rather than a celebration.
The following 10 considerations may help ease the burden and restore the excitement for weddings:
- Differentiate between a justice of the peace and a pastor. Many engaged couples today desire a pastor by title but a justice of the peace in practice. A justice of the peace has limited legal power to make a marriage official. A pastor gives counsel and blessing to a couple.
- Differentiate between a wedding coordinator and a pastor. Where people stand or how they walk in is not a huge concern for most pastors. When pastors get swamped with details, they tend to retreat. Request that a family member or friend fulfill the role of wedding coordinator, and allow the pastor to focus on the content of the ceremony.
- If necessary, free up your pastor(s) from rehearsals. A rehearsal is a great time to learn more about the couple and minister to the family. If you can, try to be there. If you can’t, ask the wedding coordinator to run the rehearsal is an easy solution.
- Recruit a deep bench for wedding officiants. We seek volunteers for children’s ministry and small groups, why not recruit a wedding team? Find those who are already ordained (you might be surprised how many pastors are in your pews), and begin a process for training and equipping those who would like to be ordained.
- Work with your receptionist and/or assistant. When someone calls the church office and says, “We would like to talk to someone about getting married,” train whoever answers the phone to respond with statements like, “Congratulations!” or “When’s the big day?” Avoid statements like, “Well, let me see who is available to talk to you.” or “We don’t host a lot of weddings here because of our weekend services.” Part of creating a marriage and family culture at your church is developing a genuine enthusiasm about marriage on the front lines.
- Bless your facilities team and validate the extra work. Weddings take a toll on the facility. Turning over the facility from wedding to church service requires extra work. There are many ways to show appreciation for a great attitude in going the extra mile. Consider bringing in pizza or an unexpected gift card.
- Develop relationships with chapels, gardens, and resorts. Woodland Hills Family Church, where I pastor, meets in a castle. You would think that every princess would want her wedding in a castle. However, there’s a pole smack dab in the middle of our auditorium’s center aisle. This makes for an awkward processional. We have many options for facilities in our town.
- Use the wedding as a “link” between premarital and newlywed. The gap is unintentional, but many churches work with engaged couples and couples in crisis to the exclusion of couples who seem to be doing “okay.” Create a newlywed follow-up plan that includes encouraging personal touches within the first year of their marriage. Create custom greeting cards to send to newlyweds throughout the year. Let them know you’re thinking of them.
- Edit wedding guidelines, and add more grace. A few years ago, my assistant asked me to reconsider the tone of our wedding guidelines. When someone called the office to seek premarital counseling and to schedule their wedding, we sent them our wedding guidelines. This document included where we stood on cohabitation. We never heard back from many couples. This was not our intent. Tough conversations are better in person, not print. You don’t need to put everything you believe in a policy manual. Don’t change what you believe, but get face to face with the couple so they can hear your heart and see your genuine love and concern for them.
- Give people a clear path through your marriage ministry. Premarital counseling is the perfect time to give the couple a discipleship plan. From church membership to small groups, challenge couples to press into biblical community. Translate the support of the church for their wedding into even more support for their marriage.
May your church be known in the community for great weddings. Let the word on the street be, “If you want to get married, you definitely want to go to that church because they tie an incredible knot!”