Wedding planning issues

Questions to ask a church about getting married there

 Web page updated July 28, 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 causes 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 has been 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 guests right and many of them will happily 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 pastor or wedding coordinator).


How do I find a church with lower fees?

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

Some large churches (including "Calvary Chapel" which is actually a denomination name) keep their fees low as a ministry commitment. Calvary Chapels tend to be built in office or industrial areas instead of on prime real estate, and avoid expensive architecture, to keep their overhead costs lower.


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

On the wedding day, can you arrive at the church early to get dressed and set up?  (If you get dressed at the church, the bride and her assistants should be allowed to arrive 2 hours early.)

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.

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 need two hours after the scheduled start time of the wedding.)


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 critically important to know that fact, and to be told what their schedules are.

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

Also the Catholic staff doesn't think to tell you about the late Saturday afternoon Mass which may directly affect your photography schedule. Since they have Saturday afternoon Mass every Saturday 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 on a Plan B for group portraits in case you're suddenly tossed out of the church while you thought you had been cleared to shoot portraits.

To avoid that 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.

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

3. Ask what other events are scheduled before and after yours, but don't rely on them 100% to tell you the truth. (Not because they're lying. They're just not coordinated between the various staff members and volunteers who make schedule commitments.) 


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

Many 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 several specific life milestones they provide for their members. And their priority is to utilizes their buildings efficiently while performing 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 church location, or a different denomination. Smaller, less elegant church buildings have less demand upon their schedules.

I have only encountered two-hour church scheduling problems in Catholic churches. Non-Catholic churches have less aggressive scheduling. (Non-Catholic denominations include Lutheran, Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Presbyterian, Foursquare, Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, and all "independent" or so-called "Protestant" churches.) 


WEDDING PLANNERS: By the way I do like the concept of hiring a professional, independent wedding planner. Her fee might be $2,000 but she will 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 is probably very competent but won't have the INDEPENDENCE to save you money in certain areas. An in-house planner is required to favor services offered through that venue and its business partners.

A wedding coordinator who works for a church (probably on a volunteer basis) can be very helpful too. But a volunteer often lacks the broad experience of someone who has done this professionally at many locations over many years. And as a volunteer they will not have numerous hours to devote to your specific needs. A volunteer has outside time commitments too -- family, outside job, etc.


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

Churches divide into three camps for 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! (To avoid embarrassing dance music, a DJ's play list is a great idea no matter where your reception is going to be located.)

Scenario 3: Some churches want no dancing at the church at all, in which case you may prefer an off-site venue for your reception.

Here's the logic. Dancing is never mentioned in the Bible as a sin. But churches want to avoid offensive language (in music) or embarrassing behaviors on their church grounds.

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 too. 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.


What about AIR CONDITIONING or heating in the church? 

If it's a summer wedding, will you be able to keep the church's air conditioning turned on at a comfortable temperature?  Important: Will they let you keep the air conditioning turned on until all photo 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 $10 on electricity.) Achieve an understanding in advance.

Another gimmick is, some churches 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 the facility, then makes you & your guests 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 fine churches exist to actually serve their constituents and would be happy to meet you!


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 below of what happens when flash isn't used during the processional.

Caption: Photo above is from a recent wedding in England


The no-flash rule explained

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

It really means:  No flash once the pastor starts speaking.

Fortunately, a bride walks up the aisle before the pastor starts the speaking portion of the ceremony.


The occasional problem

Many volunteer church wedding coordinators are poorly trained and have no idea of what their own church's photography rule is all about. In her zeal the coordinator physically stops the photographer from taking pictures which the bride had expected him to take. Like a photo of the bride walking up the aisle. So it's a good idea to clarify that rule before the wedding day.

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

A poorly informed church wedding coordinator gives a bad name to her church and damages her pastor's ministry work. It discourages brides & photographers from ever wanting to attend that church later.

I'm not speaking theoretically -- this problem has confronted me a number of times during my photo career. And other photographers have shared the same sad story when they learned I'm a Christian.  Church staff, if you care anything about the testimony of your church, take heed. A photographer who has encountered this never forgets.


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 more 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 generally okay with alcohol. Large Catholic churches have reception halls on their grounds in which members hold wedding receptions, complete with music, dancing, and alcohol.

When churches don't allow alcohol use, it's generally because the founders of their denomination saw families destroyed by various addictions, and would hope to avoid it. The Bible itself speaks against misuse of alcohol but not against the substance.



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

Video is a great thing to have. There are about four specific questions I suggest discussing with videographers before you hire one. These are covered on my "video" page, click here

We do not perform videography ourselves. Early in his career Doug shot video, but concluded he needed to concentrate on still photography alone.


Does a church require pre-marital counseling? Is it available? 

Doug's perspective: I believe 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 counselling helps an engaged couple to get their 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 counselor or 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" and then plans to blind side you later? 

2. Do you expect monogamy but are marrying into a sub-culture that promotes affairs? -- and expects the other 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, statistically speaking, you're likely to end up alone again... and with several children to support. 


Asking the following questions also help to assure a marriage that 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 come from?)

4. Does your potential spouse have anger issues or addictions? 

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 them? 

Child abuse experts say it's common for an abusive older parent to guilt-trip their adult children, to gain unsupervised access to the new grandchildren.The purpose is so they can continue abuse into the new generation also. Suggestion: Discuss with your fiance what level of access you'd agree to permit. Decide whether your priority is to "forgive" abusers or to protect the next generation.

If any doubts why not consider a legally binding pre-nup about how much access shall be permitted for potentially dangerous grandparents. Clearly state those reasons in the document. I'm not generally a fan of pre-nup's, but protecting children is a fundamental moral responsibility.


6. Do you agree on religious views?

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

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 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 "normal" or weird. I prefer churches which believe the Bible (not all churches do.)

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

I am not overly picky about which denomination a church is -- as long as it succeeds on these three characteristics.

There's absolutely no need in America to be stuck attending a creepy church. When getting married why not pick one you're comfortable with.


Churches are like restaurants...


While photographing weddings over 25 years and I saw 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 every church is just like them.

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

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

Please seek out a normal church -- even if that disappoints your dear sainted Aunt 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. Bad food means there are bad leaders.



Feel free to reproduce this page, I would appreciate credit as author.

If you would like to find a high quality church in our area, please e-mail or call me. I'm familiar with most of them, either by reputation or by personal experience there. 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 denominations, excellent paperback books are available on this subject at any Christian bookstore --- a well known paperback is titled "So What's The Difference?" by Fritz Riedenour. Good local bookstores include Berean Christian Store, Family Christian Stores, or Majesty Bible Store.

You can also look this information up for free online at







Saving money on weddings click here

Marriage license info click here





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