But there's a resource we have that truly has a lot of unused potential: our buildings. They sit empty most of the week in most of their rooms. Our sanctuaries, social halls, and RE classrooms largely, across the country, sit empty. Of course most of us are happy to take in more renters, but renters needing the kind of spaces we have are hard to find. We'd be happy to use this resource more if we knew how.
Another thing I think we could be doing more of: Weddings. Many churches, particularly our large and beautiful ones, get more wedding requests than their ministers want to handle. Maybe they turn people away, maybe they have a list of clergy they refer to. But we're not out there seeking out more business, even though there's business to be had. We're not marketing ourselves as a wedding business. We're not building gazebos on our extensive grounds for the outdoor weddings. We're not largely hiring wedding coordinators, and I don't think many of us have a box of stuff that couples might like to rent for weddings, from feathery pens for their guest books to clips to hold bows or flowers on the pews.
Yes, there really is more business to be had. One need only look to the thriving wedding business Erika Hewitt is doing in Maine. She reports that she has 30 ceremonies scheduled for this year. But she has to take this business seriously, which means time and energy to put into it, as well as marketing. And full-time ministers rarely have the time to do 30 weddings a year.
A lot of people who don't see the need for a church in their lives still see a need for a church for their wedding. There's a big wedding business to be had, if we wanted to tap into it. But part of it is that we've held on tightly to the idea that weddings need to be performed by our clergy, and our clergy want their Saturdays off, if they're paid sufficiently by the congregation. Meanwhile, the larger culture has moved on, and is happy to have their wedding performed by their best friend who has never done a wedding before and has gotten ordained online for the occasion. Our slack is being picked up by nondenominational wedding officiants with no training and a Universal Life Church ordination.
|Joey performs Monica and Chandler's wedding in Friends|
So what if we clergy each trained one or two entrepreneurial people to become our wedding chaplains, and to aggressively market our churches for weddings? We train these wedding chaplains, equip them with resources, and set a going rate for the whole wedding package including officiant for the church to charge, out of which the chaplain is paid, on a per wedding basis. Our churches get used, get income, and get hundreds of new faces through the doors. Maybe they'll see something they like and come back on a Sunday, too. The wedding officiant can also do offsite weddings and these, too, can be structured to financially benefit the church as an outreach ministry. But if we started thinking of our grounds as potential wedding sites, building the gazebos and trellises and having the hundreds of fold-out chairs available, over time we'd find ourselves going off-site less and less. We have the beautiful locations. We have the gorgeous grounds and the beautiful buildings and the extensive halls. And we have the knowledge of how to do a truly wonderful wedding ceremony. We just need to use these things in new and creative ways.