Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Entrepreneurial Church: Weddings by Cindy Landrum

Our narrative is often that our churches are strapped for resources.  We can't do more, reach out more,
because we have limited staff time and energy and dwindling membership.

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
Truthfully, there's little religious function left in your average wedding ceremony.  But just as truthfully, a lot of the weddings that are done by friends of the bride and groom or other amateurs are done poorly.  It doesn't take an M.Div. to know how to perform a good wedding, but it does take training.  And this is training that our ministers know how to provide.

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.

6 comments:

zimruch said...

The Ohio Meadville District has had Commissioned Lay Leaders (CLL)* since the 1970's who get training (including mentorship by a UU minister) and credentials to perform weddings. We've just introduced this program into St. Lawrence District and it's part of our regionalization discussion. http://ohiomeadville.org/program/cll
Getting a program started in other areas would need a committed group of lay people and clergy, the support of the UUMA and the District/Region for the accountability structure.
Of course, there are many other ways this could be accomplished -- many of which are still to be imagined!

* The CLL program was started by the late Rev. Gordon McKeeman

Kate said...

Most of our communities actually have clergy not employed by the church who could do this as well. An even more important thing we could do that we do way better than most, including most non-UU clergy, is funerals and memorial services. As a retired minister, that is a ministry I would really like to do if a church would work with me.





Steve Cook said...

I started to count how many times the word "business" was used in that post and I quickly had to stop because it was so depressing. Is this really what we've come to, that we have to get out there with our marketing efforts to compete with the various restaurants, country clubs and function halls that offer "wedding packages?" Are we no more than a business, offering our services for fees to the general public? And what shall we do when we find that mail order "ministers" are undercutting us--run a sale?

I decided in my first year of ministry not to do walk-in weddings simply as a source of income. Sustaining a marriage is hard enough, but at least I was able to say to couples within my church, if only at the outset, "I'll be here to support you." I cannot even think of making such a promise to the walk-in couple.

Further (and I cannot lay my hand on any research, but certainly anecdotally) the idea that walk-in weddings are a substantial engine of church growth is false. Less than 10% of walk-in couples, across denominations, ever stay with a church that they just hired only Stevebecause they like the center aisle and the color scheme.

I cannot say how sad I am at this vision of "church."

Tom Schade said...

Well Steve, I have known you long enough to know that most things about the church make you sad and depressed. If I had an intern (but it is not possible for anyone to get paid less than I do for doing this "work", I would have said intern research the archives for the last proposal for change that made you happy. Anyway, the brick and mortar buildings are the most expensive asset we have and lots of congregations are barely keeping the doors open. You're right, doing "walk-in" weddings is a lousy evangelism strategy and a poor use of a parish minister's time, especially if you consider success getting a couple to sign the book and the pledge card. But using the asset we have in a way that matches what people need is usually a good idea.

Steve Cook said...

Well, Tom, you've evidently missed my enthusiastic "hurrah" to your FB post about the great success scored by the UUA in moving to a self-insurance plan. Also, you seemed to have missed my endorsement of your proposal to look at "virtues" rather than, or in addition to "principles" on another piece of this blog, though it seems not have been posted.

My first concern has always been for the congregations I serve and not for "The Movement" or the institution of the UUA. I take plenty of joy in that work and it is shared fulsomely with the people I serve, as they would attest.

Elmer said...

It was just a matter of a little religious function, but it takes you to the longer term of your life to live with your partner and enjoy the life into a married life. This can be big thing for you to do with your entire life, and you must need to be faithful to both of you. Best wishes of your wedding!


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