Wedding planning issues

Questions to ask a church about getting married there

Example: The church shown above is a non-denominational congregation which
quickly grew to several thousand members due to friendly people and quality teaching from the pulpit.

 Web page updated June 2013


You can "interview" a church 

You can "interview" a church just like you'd interview a photographer, caterer or DJ. High quality churches are happy to answer your interview questions.


What is the church's FEE for hosting a wedding?  

Issues regarding the church's fee:

1. A wedding does cause some actual costs to a church: Paying a janitor, air conditioning or heating, lighting; paying a staff employee to have the keys and lock up the building afterwards. In some areas churches may need to pay an actual security guard or building engineer, due to high-value professional sound equipment and other assets that need to be protected using paid employees.

2. Sound man, minister, janitor and wedding coordinators who provide hours of service to the public eventually need to be paid - either through donations or fees. Some churches have staff dedicated enough to provide these services anyway, whether paid or not. But staff who are rarely paid will eventually burn out.

3. Smaller churches often have very reasonable fees to host a wedding.

4. Large and architecturally beautiful churches tend to have high fees to host a wedding. Sometimes too high, perhaps.

Historically marriage is a ministry of the church, like baptisms or Bible teaching. Churches wouldn't dream of charging high fees for those ministries.

Weddings are the rare occasion when a church has the opportunity to "show off" its good points to the public. Treat the guests right and some of them will come back later to be ministered to. Isn't that why a church exists in the first place? People who are successfully ministered to eventually join a church and start contributing money to it. Hitting brides with high fees is absurd.


Are fees different for members compared to outsiders?

Many churches charge less for brides who already attend their church. Consider attending or joining the church and save the money, if it's a good church to begin with.

Some churches have a fee schedule that covers specific items --- janitor, sound man, security guard, etc. --- and the rest of the "fee" is a matter of voluntary donations. Sometimes the donation amount is "suggested" (such as an honorarium for the minister or wedding coordinator).


How do I find a church with lower fees?

Smaller-size churches have lower fees because they are supported by regular donations from their members, and don't host weddings often enough to see weddings as a source of income.

Some large churches keep their fees low as a ministry commitment. Example: Many contemporary churches are built in office or industrial areas instead of on prime real estate, and avoid expensive architecture, to keep their overhead costs lower. (One example of this type of church is Calvary Chapel, which has affiliated churches in most cities.) 


What hours will the church be available to you on the wedding day?  

On the wedding day, can you arrive at the church early enough to get dressed and set up?  (If you get dressed at the church, it is best for the bride and her assistants to be allowed access 2 hours before the ceremony. If you get dressed at home, arriving 1 hour early is OK.)

Can you come and decorate the church, or the aisles, or a reception area?  This may not be practical at some churches if more than one wedding or event is scheduled for the same day.

Important: On the wedding day, can you remain at the church long enough to complete formal portraits after the ceremony, without getting run out early before the pictures are completed?  (My rule of thumb estimate is: you should be allowed two hours after the scheduled start time of the wedding.)

If the church intends to "throw you out" before finishing portrait photography after the ceremony, this is really tacky. Be certain you have an understanding with the church, of exactly how long you can remain to finish your pictures!


What other events or weddings are scheduled the same day as your wedding? 

If churches have another wedding happening before and/or after yours, it is really really important to know that.

Popular Catholic churches will perform a wedding every two hours during popular seasons. Oddly your priest who performs wedding #2 may not be aware there is a weddings #1 or #3, because #1 and #3 had been set up by different staff members.

Also the Catholic church's office staff doesn't think to tell you there's a late Saturday afternoon Mass which could adversely affect your photography schedule. Since they have Saturday afternoon Mass every Saturday afternoon, it doesn't occur to them to tell you about it.

The reason it's important to know about other events, is so the photographer or wedding planner can work with you to prepare a Plan B for portraits if you're suddenly tossed out of the church early.

To avoid that very, very unpleasant surprise I recommend a three pronged approach:

1. Plan your wedding day schedule with your photographer and/or with a very experienced wedding planner.

2. Absolutely start your ceremony when you plan to start it !!!! I recommend 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. So if it's a 1:00 pm wedding, the bridesmaids should be coming up the aisle at exactly 1:10 pm.

If you start a ceremony even a few minutes later for no good reason, you will mess up the day's scheduling of your limousine, the portrait photography, the ceremony venue, the reception venue, the caterer, the disc jockey --- everything.

3. Ask what other events are scheduled before and after yours, but don't rely on them to tell you the truth. Not because they're lying! They're just poorly coordinated between the various staff members and volunteers who make schedule commitments.


Some churches have tight schedules, but not all churches are like that

Popular Catholic churches schedule weddings at 2-hour intervals. Here's the explanation. As a matter of policy, they are NOT trying to satisfy your photo needs. Their priority is to satisfy their denominational need to accomplish a specific Catholic sacrament. The Catholic marriage ceremony, which they call a sacrament, is one of seven specific life milestones they provide for their members. And their priority is to utilize their buildings efficiently while performing sacraments (ceremonies.)

If their priority is different from yours, be aware so you can plan appropriately --- either by choosing a less popular date to get married on, or by choosing a less popular Catholic church location, or a different denomination. Smaller, less elegant church buildings have less demand upon their schedules.

I encounter two-hour church scheduling problems only at Catholic churches. Non-Catholic churches have less aggressive scheduling (due to fewer weddings??)

Non-Catholic denomination examples include Baptist, Luthern, Calvary Chapel, Presbyterian, Foursquare, Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, and various "independent" Christian churches such as Adventure Christian Church, Bridgeway Christian Church, Sun River Church, or Bayside Covenant Church.


WEDDING PLANNERS: Some brides hire a professional, independent wedding planner. Her fee could be $2,000 but she may save you the entire cost of her fee by avoiding waste.

An experienced planner/coordinator will keep your schedule on track, reduce your stress, and give you better memories of a relaxed and terrific wedding day.

A wedding planner who works for a hotel or country club may have superb experience but won't have the independence to save you money in certain areas. An in-house wedding planner is required to favor services offered through that venue and its business partners. Her salary is made possible by profits she generates for her employer.

A wedding coordinator who works for a church (usually a volunteer) can be extremely helpful too. But most volunteers lack the broad experience of someone who has done this professionally. And as a volunteer they will not have many hours to devote to your specific needs. Volunteers do have outside time commitments too -- family, outside job, etc. And unfortunately SOME volunteer coordinators are poorly trained.


What about AIR CONDITIONING or heating in the church? 

If it's a summer wedding, will we be able to keep the church's air conditioning turned on at a comfortable temperature?  Will we be able to have the air conditioning turned on until all portraits have been completed after the ceremony?  (If you're dripping with perspiration because they shut off the air conditioner while you're taking formal pictures, it's a bad thing, even if the church might save $4 on electricity.) Achieve an understanding in advance.

Another gimmick is, some churches will lock their thermostat to a money-saving worthless setting where everyone is miserable. I've never understood the reasoning of a church that would charge you $400 to use their facility, then makes you miserable to save $4 worth of electricity.

If you agree to pay the church a fee to host your ceremony, I strongly recommend you negotiate an additional $10 to have the thermostat kept at a comfortable level -- during the ceremony and also during group portrait photography after the ceremony.

If they're unwilling to cooperate, maybe find a better church. Thousands of other churches exist to serve their constituents.


What is the PHOTOGRAPHY POLICY inside the church?

Our policy is to use flash photography ONLY during the PROCESSIONAL and recessional parts of a wedding. This is acceptable to 95% of churches today.

Why is camera flash needed during the processional?  Because when people are walking up an aisle, their MOTION will cause the pictures to be blurred. Electronic flash solves the problem. Flash freezes motion. See example picture below of what happens when flash isn't used during the processional.


The no-flash rule explained

Once upon a time, an inexperienced photographer used lots of flash during a ceremony and it distracted everyone. So churches came up with the "no flash during the ceremony" rule. Here is what that actually means translated into English:  


Here's what It really means:  No flash once the pastor starts speaking.

Fortunately the bride walks up the aisle before the pastor starts speaking, so photography should be OK.


The occasional problem

Some volunteer church wedding coordinators are so poorly trained they have no idea of why their own church has a photography rule or a supposed no-photography rule. In her zeal the coordinator acts like a Nazi to physically stop your photographer from taking normal pictures which the bride expects him to take. Like a photo of the bride walking up the aisle.

A photographer really does want to take every picture the bride expects him to take. He does not want to explain afterwards to an angry bride why he didn't take a picture of her walking up the church aisle!

A poorly informed wedding coordinator gives a bad name to her church, damages the ministry work of her pastor, and discourages bride and photographer from ever wanting to visit that church again.

If you are a church staff member who cares about the testimony of your church, take note.  This is not some theoretical problem. I have encountered it several times, and so have other wedding photographers who have complaimed to me about it. A photographer who has encountered this never forgets.


Is DANCING permitted at the church, if you're having your reception there too? 

Okay, you're smart to ask first... Churches divide into three camps about dancing.

Scenario 1: A couple's First Dance is fine but no open dancing at the reception.

Scenario 2: Dancing is fine for everyone at the reception, but no dirty dancing, keep it discreet, and no dance music which has edgy lyrics. (Warning! Discuss the music play list in advance with your disk jockey.)

Scenario 3: Some churches allow no dancing at the church at all, you'll have to use an off-site venue for your reception if you want dancing.

Here's the logic. Dancing is never mentioned in the Bible as a sin. Some socially conservative churches want to avoid offensive language (in music) or embarrassing behaviors on their church grounds. A few denominations had over-generalized against dance-halls of the Roaring 20's. They went too far towards a nanny-state direction by banning dancing, when the Bible never does so.

Other socially conservative churches, such as LDS churches, encourage dancing on their church grounds because they want single folks to mingle, have a good time, meet each other & end up married and having babies. Of course they'll expect guests & DJ's to behave with some dignity. I'm not LDS but they nailed it correctly on this one.


Is champagne permitted if you are having a reception at the church? 

The majority of American churches don't want alcohol on their property.

European churches are relaxed about alcohol, realizing the chemical is only a chemical. The real issue is how individual people choose to behave.

There is an exception. Catholic churches are okay with alcohol. Large Catholic churches have reception halls on their grounds in which participants can hold wedding receptions, complete with music, dancing, beer and sometimes full bars.

When churches don't allow alcohol use, it's generally because the founders of their denomination saw families destroyed by addictions, and don't want to encourage anyone towards excess. The Bible itself speaks against misuse of alcohol but not against the substance. Just as the Bible speaks against murder but not against swords or guns.



If you plan on hiring a videographer we have a suggestions page that may be helpful. Click here

We always cooperate 100% with your videographer, whether amateur or professional.


Does a church have pre-marital counseling available? 

Doug's perspective: From my own experience I know this is the best part of wedding planning.

Because if a marriage eventually fails, all those fancy wedding details you worked on become worthless.

Pre-marital counseling helps an engaged couple to get their personal expectations out on the table for their future spouse to see. Whatever those expectations are, smart or goofy, do the two of you actually agree on them? 

Smart or goofy isn't the issue. Agreement is. If you agree on things you'll probably stay married.


Hint ... Don't marry a person so you can change them later --- it doesn't work!!!
If you don't believe me, just ask any divorce attorney how often they've seen that be successful !!!


Answer the following two questions accurately before a wedding, and you'll probably stay married...

1. Do you REALLY agree on expectations, or does your potential spouse say "sure" but plans to blind side you later? 

2. Do you expect monogamy but are you marrying into a sub-culture that promotes affairs? -- a sub-culture which expects the injured spouse to just put up with it?  Even though vows include a monogamy promise, you'll want to find out beforehand if your potential spouse actually means it.

Otherwise a few years later, statistically speaking, you are llikely to end up alone again. And with several children to support.


If I haven't lost you yet, the following questions also help to assure a marriage will last...


3. Does your potential spouse plan to be married to you or to their previous family? 

If in-law pressure occurs, will your spouse honor YOU, or throw you to the wolves to appease the family they came from?


4. Does your potential spouse have anger or addiction problems? 

People CAN achieve victory over these issues, but need to be highly motivated. Counselors say that people are on their best behavior during dating. If anger, violence or addictions are showing up while dating, they could be expected to grow worse after marriage.


5. If your potential spouse's family had a history of child abuse, how would you handle visits of your future children to those in-laws? 

It's common for older abusers to guilt-trip their adult children (whom they'd previously abused), in order to gain unsupervised access to the new grandchildren. So they can continue their abuse into the next generation!

That kind of problem may be avoided if you and your potential spouse completely agree in advance what level of access you'll permit to your future children. If any doubt consider a legally binding pre-nup about how much access shall be permitted for potentially dangerous grandparents, and clearly state those reasons in the legal document. I'm not generally in favor of pre-nup's but this could be a special case. Protecting children is a fundamental moral responsibility.


6. Do you agree on religious views?

There are four reasons for this question. First, behaviors like ethics, honesty and monogamy tend to be associated with religious values. Second, general agreement on "stuff" makes for a marriage that is more relaxed. Third, religion might not seem important to you today, but often becomes important once children start being born. Fourth, for followers of the Bible, it is taught that believers should only marry believers.

If your religious background was unpleasant, there's no law that says you have to continue attending the same obnoxious denomination. This is America. A different church across town could be a breath of fresh air.


A wedding photographer's perspective -
Here's what I learned behind the scenes about local churches


WHEN I EVALUATE A CHURCH'S QUALITY I look at three things...

First, is the behavior of that church's staff consistent with what they claim to believe. Are they honest, helpful, approachable. Or not.

Second, are their beliefs weird, or historically respected. Hopefully a church believes the Bible (not all of them do!)

Third, how are the ordinary people who attend that particular church --- honest, trustworthy, helpful?  Or snooty, ill tempered, dishonest?

(How ordinary church attenders behave often reflects the character of their church's leadership. Not always, but often.) 


I am not overly picky about which denomination a church is -- as long as it succeeds on the above 3 characteristics.

There's absolutely no need in America to be stuck attending a creepy church. There's no need to get married in a creepy one either.


Churches are like restaurants...


Shooting weddings across 25 years and seeing churches behind the scenes, I made an unexpected discovery: 

You can have two churches of the same denomination (fill in the blank for which denomination) where one church is horrible and the other "identical" church across town is very good.

So if a person had bad experiences at Church XYZ, it is simply not true that Church ABC will be just like them.

That principle is true whether one is rating churches or restaurants.

Logically, people who have been "turned off to church" might consider trying a better church across town. Hey - did you give up food because you used to eat at a bad restaurant? No - You stopped eating at the bad restaurant and found a normal one!


Please seek out a normal church -- even if that disappoints your dear sainted grandma Hilda.


Principle: Churches will be good or bad for the same reasons as restaurants. It is a function of the character of their leaders and staff. The leaders and staff determine the quality of food they will feed you. If you received bad food, why not move on to greener pastures.

Feel free to reproduce this page -- I would appreciate author's credit being given.



Saving money on weddings click here

Marriage license info click here

If you have questions about local churches why not contact me. I'll tell you which churches I know are good and which ones I'd avoid. I'm not on anyone's payroll to push a particular denomination.

If you want to know what are the differences between specific denominations, you can find those facts online at

Or buy any of several excellent paperback books on the subject. For example, "So What's the Difference?" by Fritz Riedenour. Locally I recommend Family Christian Stores, Berean Christian Store, and Majesty Bible Store as a starting point.





Marriage license info click here






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