by Ted Cunningham
I love weddings. My retirement plans include running on a small wedding chapel on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. I’ve officiated outdoor weddings, backyard weddings, destination weddings, traditional weddings, sunset on the lake weddings, after Sunday morning service weddings and garden weddings. For me, weddings are like mini marriage conferences in breathtaking environments. Here are a few considerations to help church leaders honor, enjoy and prioritize weddings and marriage in the church.
1. Invite gathered family and friends to be backup singers. The daughters of Jerusalem were the backup singers for Solomon and the Shullamite bride: We rejoice and delight in you, we will praise your love more than wine (Song of Songs 1:4 NIV). During the ceremony, when I welcome family and friends, I make sure they know that they are there for a purpose. I invite them to rejoice and delight in the love and union of the couple by holding them accountable to their vows, praying for the couple and speaking words of high value over them.
2. Coach 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 many 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.
3. Develop relationships with chapels, gardens, and resorts. Give engaged couples options. Our church meets in a castle. You would think that every princess would want her wedding in a castle. However, smack dab in the middle of our auditorium and in the center of the main aisle there is a pole. This makes for an awkward processional.
4. Wordsmith 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 notes 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.
5. 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.
Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri. He is the author of Fun Loving You, Trophy Child and Young and In Love. Ted and his wife, Amy, live in Branson with their two children, Corynn and Carson.