5 Things To Know If You're Planning A Church Wedding, According To A Wedding Planner

For some, saying “I do” in a church feels like a profound way to express the significance of their faith not only in their own lives but in the new joint life they are embarking on with their spouses. Not to mention, the aesthetic beauty of certain churches can provide an unparalleled backdrop for tying the knot. So it goes without saying that planning a church wedding comes with plenty of rewards — but it also requires special considerations as well.

According to The Knot’s Real Weddings study, about 22 percent of ceremonies were held in some kind of religious institution in 2017 — a notable drop from 41 percent in 2009. The study revealed that many couples are opting to host their weddings in unconventional spaces, such as farms, ranches, historic buildings and homes, public gardens, museums, and wineries. Still, those who have a strong faith may feel adamant that a church is the right place to officially declare their lifelong commitment.

“It’s a wonderful way to celebrate your religion,” says Mandy Connor, founder of Boston-based Hummingbird Bridal and Events.

That said, planning a church wedding often means abiding by certain rules that may pose limitations on how the ceremony goes.

"I tell my couples that they are beholden to the rules of the church even in reformed churches with looser regulations.," explains Connor. “But it’s not meant to be suffocating — it’s simply meant to pay respect to the religion in the way it deserves.”

Thinking about tying the knot in a church? Here are some important things to keep in mind in order to ensure your big day is everything you dreamed of.

Your photographer may have rules to abide by.
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When you’re planning a church wedding, Connor says it’s super important to make sure you’re aware of the rules around photography. Many churches will have strict guidelines in place as to what the photographer can and can’t do — they may not be able to use flash, take photos from certain angles, or walk down the aisle, for example.

“Make sure that your photographer is communicating directly with your contact at the church so that they’re aware of these restrictions,” says Connor.

This way, you’ll have peace of mind that you get stunning photos to commemorate your big day without disrespecting the church’s rules.

You'll likely have some music limitations.
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Thinking of hiring your own outside musicians? Not so fast. Connor says that very often, you’ll be limited to using the church’s designated instrumentalists or band. Not only that, but they may have a set list of songs that you’re required to choose from for the processional and recessional parts of the ceremony.

“I once had a bride that wanted ‘All You Need Is Love’ by The Beatles to play while she was walking down the aisle, and that simply wasn’t possible in a Catholic Church,” adds Conor.

Keep in mind that the music limitations will vary vastly from church to church. So it’s a good idea to find out early what songs are and aren’t allowed before you get your hopes up about any particular tune.

You may not be able to get as creative with the ceremony.
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While planning your wedding, you’ll likely be thinking about what order people will walk down the aisle in, where they’ll stand, etc. But Connor says you may not be able to dictate all of these details.

“Don’t make a plan outside of the church regarding how you want the ceremony to flow, because typically the church guides that," she explains.

Additionally, Connor notes that you probably won’t get to choose who performs your wedding, as the priest or pastor will typically lead the ceremony.

It’s a good idea to get to know you’re officiant before the big day — during your interview, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you can think of. The more you ask, the more you can ensure that your expectations and wishes are met while also reducing the risk that you accidentally break any of the church’s rules. If you plan to include communion in your service, be sure to ask the officiant if the church can offer that or if you need to arrange to set it up yourself. You may also want to ask if you’re allowed to bring in your own wedding planner or if the church has their own events planner or wedding planning ministry that can assist with preparations.

Holidays will likely affect the availability of the church.
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Before you start sending out those save the dates, be sure to check the church’s calendar of events. Observed holidays and holy days may be off limits, and you definitely don’t want to start planning your wedding before you’re aware of the church’s availability.

It’s worth noting, however, that many churches may have stunning decor around the holidays that could add to the festive and romantic ambiance for your ceremony. So while it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to plan your church wedding for Christmas Eve or Christmas night, you might plan it for the week before to take advantage of the beautiful holiday decorations.

You might need to gather some documents.
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According to Connor, the requirements will vary from church to church, but some will require proof of baptism, confirmation, and/or communion. Some churches are also strict about remarriage (if your first marriage was not annulled). So you’ll obviously want to get clear ASAP on what is allowed and which forms are required. Then, get to work on gathering them as early in the wedding planning process as possible. This will give you peace of mind that a lack of documentation won’t somehow compromise the church’s ability to host your ceremony.

One last thing: If you and your spouse-to-be come from different religious backgrounds, there’s no reason why you can’t both honor your respective faiths.

“We’re starting to see a lot of reform from old school formalities,” says Connor.

Case in point: Connor is currently planning a wedding for a couple in which the bride is Catholic and the groom is Jewish. Since they both want to celebrate and respect their religions, they arranged for a Catholic priest to work alongside a Rabbi to collaborate on leading the ceremony together. How progressive is that?

A church wedding is a stellar way to demonstrate your commitment to your religion, as well as the role it will play in your forthcoming marriage. Not to mention, many chapels and churches can provide a jaw-dropping setting for your ceremony. As long as you keep these important elements in mind, you’ll be able to plan a memorable ceremony that caters the church’s guidelines while also meeting your needs and desires.