Where should Christians marry?

January 14th, 2020

In 2018, the average wedding cost almost $34,000 according to the couples surveyed by The Knot. Even for more modest affairs, the cost of a venue, flowers, catering, and a photographer quickly adds up. Websites like The Knot, social media that relies on images like Pinterest and Instagram, and the popularity of wedding-related television shows like Say Yes to the Dress have contributed to the rise of the Wedding Industrial Complex, a term coined by blogger Meg Keene at APracticalWedding.com. The evolution of weddings from primarily intimate family affairs at home or church to big galas that are all about the individual couple upholding particular societal expectations benefits those fashion designers, the diamond industry, and wedding magazines that make up the Wedding Industrial Complex.

With wedding costs spiraling out of control and more and more people opting out of traditional religious ceremonies, where should Christians get married? One pastor recently argued on Twitter that Christians should absolutely get married in their church as opposed to a “shiplap barn,” an aesthetic made popular by Chip & Joanna Gaines on the HGTV show Fixer Upper.

He maintained that marrying among one’s faith community is important, as those are the people who will help hold you to your vows when the going gets rough. But even at church weddings, it’s rare that members of the community show up uninvited.

As religious observance and engagement in a particular faith community has declined among millennials and Gen Z, more and more weddings are taking place in gardens, refurbished barns, museums, and courthouses as opposed to churches. And for those who attend large, non-denominational churches, the idea of getting married in a building that resembles a convention center is not aesthetically appealing. Churches with more traditional aesthetics oftentimes require membership or regular attendance, as they don’t necessarily want to serve as “wedding chapels” for couples they won’t ever see again. Additionally, many churches will not or cannot officiate same-gender marriages depending on the policies of their denomination.

From the size of the building to aesthetic, theological, and liturgical considerations, there are many reasons why people, even those who consider themselves Christians, might not choose to get married in a church. Fortunately, God does not only reside in church buildings, and I believe God can just as easily be invoked in a garden, a home, or a shiplap barn. But if churches want people to get married in their buildings, offering a free or very inexpensive venue is one way to promote that and counter the ballooning costs of weddings.

Many of my clergy colleagues dread weddings because of the unique combination of societal and familial expectations that coalesce around an emotionally intense moment. But weddings can also be moments of hospitality and evangelism. In a time of declining engagement in the church, just getting people through the doors is a victory enough, and those who might not normally find themselves in the church may hear the good news of the love of God preached.

Getting married in a church building is not a vaccination against future marital issues, nor is it an option for everyone, but as wedding costs spiral out of control, the church could play a role in welcoming and providing meaningful ceremonies for those who are willing to forego the perfect Instagram wedding aesthetic.

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