An age-old question for pastors: What is a new way to welcome people into the church? Starting and growing a church is one of the most difficult things to effectively do because pastors are often unaware of their own self-created obstacles.
Pastor-Created Obstacles Prevent Church Growth
One hundred years ago, parishioners were welcomed through the front door into the church. They became members of the church and were actively involved. In today’s world, many Millennials are not interested in entering the church through the front door. So why not use a different door?
Three Primary Doors into Church
The Wedding Side Door
Five years ago, I started a wedding business in Los Angeles. It was unintentional but the rewards have been huge. Our former babysitter asked me to marry her and her fiancé. The wedding was filled with unchurched people. A bridesmaid from that wedding asked me to conduct her wedding and the business snowballed. I discovered a niche for helping unchurched couples that considered themselves spiritual but not religious. I helped the couples prepare for their wedding and conducted their wedding ceremony. I heard stories about churches having strict guidelines for marrying couples, often charging non-members more money for the ceremony than members, or even worse, denying a wedding ceremony for non-members.
Denying a wedding ceremony or funeral service can really hinder the growth of potential believers and a church.
My premise was simple: provide an extraordinary wedding ceremony for unchurched couples without condemning or insulting them. Most of the couples that seek my services are living together when they come to me. My goal is not to judge them but only to get them married to redeem their relationship, and to show them that pastors and churches care for them.
After perfecting the prototype, other church planters around the country wanted to implement the system in their community. I coached them through the process and we now have ten church planters that are part of our network (WeddingPastorsNetwork.com), and we’re growing. As a result, we are leading young couples back to the church and ultimately, back to God.
Unchurched Couples Value a Friendly Approach
In the last five years, I have had more meaningful spiritual conversations with unchurched couples than I ever did as a full-time pastor. I ask each couple, “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” I believe everyone is on a spiritual journey whether people recognize it or not. This question has led to some fascinating discussions. As a result, we have seen many begin attending church and some come to a saving faith in Christ.
Financial Relief for Pastors
Pastors nationwide have one of the lowest annual salaries when compared to other professional careers. One survey showed that pastors are the lowest paid degreed professionals in America. It is marked as a “career to avoid” due to the low pay or in some cases, no pay. This is the reason that many pastors become bi-vocational in order to support their families. The much-needed income from conducting wedding ceremonies offers financial relief and a huge blessing to church planters while also leading couples to church through the side door.
Spiritual Moments from Church Planters that Serve as Wedding Pastors
Pastor Russell Craves (Houston, TX) “As a church planter, starting my wedding business has resulted in a handful of couples attending my church. I have learned more about how the non-Christian and unchurched nominal Christian thinks about life, relationships, finances, and family. I have had to listen carefully and pray often for wisdom to speak in a language that makes sense to these couples. I am always looking for ways to have gospel conversations with people outside of the church. The crazy thing with the wedding approach is that they pay me to share with them about how to build a strong marriage, which always includes God. I’ve enjoyed starting this side business as it satisfies my entrepreneurial itch.”
Pastor Ed Choy (Germantown, MD) “Conducting weddings is a great way to plant a church. It’s an excellent way to connect with unchurched couples in the most authentic way. I love doing counseling, seeing couples experience joy on their wedding day, and connecting with families and friends of the couple. It’s a good way to have a legitimate business that can give a platform for meeting more people and networking with other vendors and businesses. If you do a great job, people notice and want to be connected and recommend you. I have ten-year goals that include being able to follow up with couples 1-10 years after the wedding, being available for couples when difficulties come, and becoming the go-to church for weddings and premarital preparation.”
Pastor Jeremy McGarity (San Diego, CA) “The original thought was to meet couples I wouldn’t normally meet and invite them to our new church. It turned into much more. We have been able to counsel couples through some early bumps in their marriage life. This has connected them to us and our church in ways we wouldn’t have been able to without the wedding business. I really enjoy meeting the couples and many of them are looking for a church as they start their new life together. We have found we can be as busy as we want with the wedding business. It is a high demand business. One of my unchurched couples recommitted their lives to Jesus and has been coming to our church. The husband even joined my high-commitment discipleship group and is doing awesome. Without the wedding business, that never would have happened.”
Dave Page is a Leadership Coach with NEXT Coaching Networks and the Director of Church Planting for the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) West District. Dave started three daughter churches of Saddleback Church. He taught church planting at Saddleback Church with Ron Sylvia for many years. Dave recently started an innovative Wedding Pastors Network for church planters and pastors to reach unchurched couples in their community. He has an MBA and an MDiv degree.