DEVELOPING AN AVOWEDLY EFFECTIVE WEDDING MINISTRY
BY DOUGLAS DEUEL
Our congregation’s wedding ministry has emerged as its most effective evangelism program. The wedding ministry (a) significantly enhances our membership growth and (b) helps us grow much younger as a congregation. Those two objectives launched our wedding ministry five years ago. We didn’t anticipate how successfully it would achieve those two goals.
We previously rented our facilities to people outside the church for weddings. We had very little contact with these couples, mostly young adults in their twenties and thirties. Many couples brought outside ministers to perform the weddings. We provided some support services but not much else.
Fortunately, when we decided to develop a wedding ministry, we had some built-in assets. Our beautiful sanctuary features magnificent stained-glass windows and seats approximately 500 people. Our central, downtown location allows good interstate access from all over San Antonio. Our down town location also offers a unique-to-this-community, romantic ambience of the Riverwalk area and our city’s rich cultural history. Thus many people are eager to be married in downtown San Antonio.
An effective wedding ministry does not require these variables. However, they enhance our ability to attract couples seeking a suitable place for a church wedding. They also helped our confidence as we embarked on a new and unfamiliar ministry.
We enjoy several positive results from this ministry. First, we have significantly increased the number of young adults attending our services and joining our church. In the past three years five new Sunday school classes developed, four of r them for young adults. These classes help ~ incorporate the new couples who join. Two years ago we started a coed volleyball league to create fellowship for younger adults. This provides an excellent vehicle for developing relationships and integrating new couples into church life. Sixty people currently participate in our volleyball league on Sunday nights. Eighty-five percent are young couples, many new to the church.
The second benefit: The number of children and youth has dramatically increased. Two years ago, our youth program averaged two participants on Sunday nights. It now averages more than fifteen attenders. Several youth come from blended families introduced to our church through the parents’ second weddings. Two years ago on a good Sunday, fifteen children came forward for the children’s sermon. Now we regularly see between twenty-five and thirty. Our nursery also garnered explosive enrollment growth. Three years ago we needed only two nursery workers. We now have five paid nursery workers (plus volunteers on special Sundays such as Easter and Mother’s Day).
A third benefit: widespread community publicity exposure. This ministry opens the church doors not only to the wedding participants but also to all of their guests. What would your church pay to have a captive audience in its sanctuary for up to an hour? Remember, that audience likely numbers from 100 to 500, and as many as 60 percent will not be actively involved in a church of any kind. Not only that, but the audience sees your facility at its very best. The wedding decorations provide a beautiful backdrop for inspiring music. Emotion is high. Who could go away with anything but positive feelings about your church? In our case, the pipe organ and carillon are the finest in the area. Throughout the building, we place attractive brochures and pictures depicting the kinds of ministries and programs we offer. This helps us make the most of the community exposure.
The fourth benefit: the sense that we truly fulfill our church’s mission through this ministry (our facilities support our evangelism efforts in this community). We are inviting unchurched people into relationship with us. We then use that bridge for introducing them to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
A fifth benefit: We are rebuilding our leadership pool. Any church that has experienced decline, for whatever reason, lacks capable leaders in some areas. The capable young couples who come into the church through this ministry, in time, provide leadership in various areas of church life. This brings great joy to older leaders who have worried about the church’s future. It also provides the church with fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm. One example: A couple came into our church through the wedding ministry (the second marriage for both) several years ago. They became actively involved in Sunday school. They served for two years on our evangelism committee. They are now starting a divorce recovery group. Because of their experiences, they believe divorce is an opportune time for the church to minister to people.
Our wedding ministry was surprisingly easy to start. Most areas have bridal fairs and bridal publications. From the beginning, we paid for a booth at a highly publicized wedding fair. We also advertised in our area wedding publication, The Wedding Pages, which includes an Internet listing for the church. The Wedding Pages helped us develop a top-quality pictorial brochure at a reasonable cost. Wedding photographers happily contributed pictures for our professional brochure–pictures that highlight our facilities, including the formal parlor where the brides dress and often have pictures taken.
Our wedding ministry’s series of marriage preparation classes provides a key element. We offer these classes twice a year–in the fall and spring. During the Sunday school hour for six weeks, the
classes cover issues such as communication, intimacy, finances, and spiritual foundation. Lay couples married for ten years or more lead the sessions. A recently married couple acts as host couple, attending each of the classes and creating relational continuity for the group. (Usually, the host couple had recently completed the marriage preparation classes and joined the church.)
During the classes we encourage couples to visit worship to get a sense of how the sanctuary will look and feel and how the organ will sound for their weddings. We also invite them to consider making our church theirs if they do not have a church home. During worship on the last Sunday of the classes, we recognize each couple with a Bible and a certificate from the church. We offer our support and our prayers for these couples during worship, affirming the upcoming weddings and the marriage relationship. This also ensures that these couples attend at least one worship service during their six weeks of marriage preparation classes. That attendance greatly increases our chances of reaching them for Christ.
I do not perform many weddings for nonmembers. That remains part of our associate minister’s job description, who also coordinates the marriage preparation classes. We are blessed with an associate minister who has excellent relational skills and a vision for how this type of ministry can help build God’s kingdom. We also rely heavily on two lay people who take turns serving as wedding coordinators. Their dedication is crucial to this ministry’s success.
We already had a wedding policy in place. This helps ensure proper use of the building. It also protects the integrity of the wedding service itself by setting parameters that fit our congregation
and our style of worship.
However, as we developed this ministry, we encountered a few problems along the way. We handled them in the following ways:
As with most new, creative ministries, some members prefer that others not use the building in this way. We have tried to listen to legitimate concerns. When necessary, we have made adjustments in scheduling the building’s use. But we haven’t allowed these minimal concerns to keep us from going forward.
A significant wedding ministry creates more work for the custodial staff. We charge a fee for our custodial services. This helps us to compensate the custodians for their extra work.
Our biggest change since beginning the wedding ministry relates to the use of outside ministers. We previously allowed couples to bring in outside ministers to do the weddings. We no longer allow this. Other churches may want to handle this issue in a different way, but we have more requests for weddings than we can accommodate. Our priority is to provide a ministry to people who do not have a meaningful relationship with a church but still want a church wedding. People who insist on bringing their own minister, in all probability, do not desire a relationship with a new church and a new minister. We do, at times, make exceptions to this policy, such as when the bride’s father is a minister or when a close relative is an out-of-town minister. For the most part, though, this policy enables us to focus our ministry on the people hungry for something more than just the use of our building.
None of these amounts to an insurmountable challenge. Over time, each potential problem can be resolved.
The key to this ministry? Focus on building and nurturing relationships! These do not always pay immediate ministry dividends, but most of them do eventually pay off. Some couples get married in the church and don’t show up again for nine months or more. One such couple, married in our church three years ago, now has a ten-month-old baby girl. The woman called me recently to ask about the possibility of a baby dedication. The relationship continues. Who knows what possibilities for ministry, lie ahead for us?
We use every possible opportunity to send personal invitations to attend worship to couples who have married in our church. At Christmas and Easter we invite each of these couples to worship with us. We also set aside one Sunday each spring to lift up marriage and to recognize the couples married in the church during the past five years. We are always amazed by how many couples return for this special service.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its nonmembers.” Our wedding ministry provides an effective way for our church to convey that message to the San Antonio community.
Deuel is senior minister of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), San Antonio, Texas.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY NET RESULTS-NEW IDEAS IN CHURCH VITALITY, JULY 1998, PAGES 12-14. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.