Q: What are the pros and cons to have a wedding ceremony outside of a church/parish? Thanks, Maria
Answer from Jeff Haden of Blackbird Images
Since you’re asking the question, it’s obvious you’re open to having a non-church wedding. So I’ll skip the religious or spiritual considerations – especially since those decisions are personal and you should always follow your heart. Instead I’ll focus on cost, logistics, planning, etc. Also keep in mind I’ll refer to facility concerns and not issues of faith: If you’re married by a preacher at a country club, on a beach, or in your backyard… it’s still a religious service.
Church Wedding Pros:
• Infrastructure is in place. Seating, altar, organ/piano, PA system (typically), rooms to get ready, even sufficient parking… basically all you have to do is add your own flowers/decorations/etc and you’re ready to go.
• Cost is relatively low. Most churches charge a set fee (okay, some call it a “donation,” but it’s still a fee) for hosting the service. In my part of Virginia the cost to use the church ranges from $200 to $400; other services – like music, facilitation, and altar servers – vary from church to church.
• Weather is no issue. Sound obvious? It is. But if it rains the day of your outdoor service… you may wish you were snug and dry.
Church Wedding Cons:
• Customization options are limited. While you can bring in flowers, candles, etc, most churches will not let you “transform” the sanctuary to suit your particular vision. The church will look like a church… which is perfect if that’s what you want. If not….
• You may want (or need) an off-site reception location. Most church social areas are, well, a little cramped and sometimes even dreary. If you have a small wedding the reception hall might be perfect; otherwise you’ll need to hold your reception elsewhere. And keep in mind most churches don’t allow alcohol on premises.
• You may not get the preacher/officiant you want. Some churches are fine with “outside” pastors conducting the ceremony; others require you to use their pastor. This year one of our couples wanted to get married in the local church they attended while they were both in college. The preacher at the time – who they loved – had retired and another preacher had taken his place. They wanted to be married by “their” pastor… no go. (So they chose another location.)
• Non-members often pay more. Lots of churches have two fees: One fee for members, and a higher (typically double) fee for non-members. Still could be a bargain, though.
Non-Church Wedding Pros:
• The service and the reception can often be held at the same location. Convenient, straightforward, fewer people get lost (which happens a lot more often than you might imagine)…
• BYOP (Bring Your Own Pastor). No concerns about faith conflicts, previous/current pastor conflicts, etc.
• More options to transform the space. Churches tend to maintain a certain level of decorum; in most cases if you rent the hall/venue, you can give your decorating imagination free reign.
• Many venues provide coordinators/facilitators. Assistance at a church is usually limited unlocking doors and turning on lights; locations that do lots of weddings often offer full-service wedding coordination (for a fee, of course.)
Non-Church Wedding Cons:
• Many venues are great at holding receptions; weddings, not so much. A thriving country club holds hundreds of receptions – not wedding receptions – a year. They’re great at receptions; the service part of your wedding day can sometimes seem like an afterthought. And some locations don’t have essentials like altars, podiums, flower/candle stands… you’ll have to make separate arrangements.
• “Corporate” wedding? Often hotel banquet rooms are perfect for receptions but may feel a little cold or “corporate” if you hold your service there as well.
• Infrastructure problems. Parking may be limited. It may not “feel” like a wedding, especially to your guests, if you get married at a fancy hotel instead of a church.
• Expense. Unless you get married in the backyard or at a park, it’s typically cheaper to hold your service at a church than at another location. Think about it: The church is usually empty on Saturday afternoon anyway; getting a little income for the use of the facility is great. Locations in demand for other purposes can and do charge more.
So what should you do? First decide if a church wedding is what you want; if so, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re open to other possibilities, think about whether the additional cost and planning required outweighs the ease of a church wedding. If so, go for it.
It’s your wedding and you’ll remember it forever – make sure you look back on a service held where you wanted.
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About this column's expert: Jeff Haden is President of BlackBird Images, wedding photographers based in Harrisonburg, VA. Not only is he a well-respected and talented photographer, but has also gained recognition as a ghostwriter.