Marketing for Churches? A Wedding Venue Case Study

A friend of mine lamented that couples aren’t getting married in churches anymore.  I didn’t think much about this until my own daughter started planning her wedding.  The differences in our experiences at private venues and churches were rather eyebrow-raising…and got me thinking…should these churches be thinking about “marketing” their wedding opportunities?

First, we visited the private venue.  We were met by a “wedding advisor,” similar in age to my daughter, who had clearly been trained in client relations.  She produced a beautiful brochure which had been personalized with my daughter’s name, presumably taken from the appointment scheduling form filled out online three days prior.  We viewed professional photos of previous weddings and discussed elements of my daughter’s dream event.  Tucked into the back of the wedding packet was fee schedule, a statement of policies, and a contract. 

Next, my daughter called her church of choice to schedule an appointment.  The woman who answered asked if my daughter even belonged to the church and if she understood just how much it would cost to use the church as a nonmember.  She then promised to fax over a list of policies and an application form which would have to go before the Wedding Committee (and then the pastor) to make sure my daughter and her event could be approved. The document that arrived was a three-page list of rules that apparently listed all the transgressions of previous delinquent brides.   IF YOU ARE LATE FOR THE REHEARSAL WE WILL NOT WAIT FOR YOU,” it proclaimed in all caps.  “BEING STUCK IN TRAFFIC IS NOT AN EXCUSE.” 

A secretary at another church explained that the Wedding Committee Chairwoman was out-of-town for two weeks.  Apparently, this woman carried the wedding calendar with her, so we were unable to check dates for availability until she returned.  No, she couldn’t take a message, my daughter would need to call back then. 

Okay, I get it.  The church secretary is an underpaid, overworked staff person who has been tossed the additional duty of fielding random phone calls from the public.  There are no funds for a nice brochure, and the Wedding Committee is run by volunteers who are exhausted from ridiculous bridezilla requests that are completely inappropriate in the non-secular world.  Weddings are a bit of an offshoot from primary church functions, and just don’t get as much attention as Sunday services.  And, churches don’t really “do marketing.”

But then…

Sometimes as churches and nonprofits, we forget that we may be “competing” with the for-profit world.  Or at least we are being compared to it.  And, although these churches may lack resources for a shiny brochure and a paid wedding planner, attitude and professionalism are free.   How confident will a potential couple feel holding their wedding in one of these institutions given the arguable errors in “customer service” experienced at the onset?

My recommendations to these churches? A few basic marketing techniques adopted from the for-profit world may be in order. I encourage them to consider the messages they are sending potential couples who wish to marry inside their walls.  Wedding verbiage should likely flip from the church’s perspective to the couple’s point of view.  Instead of starting the conversation by listing fees that must be paid and hoops that must be jumped through, perhaps opening with a message that is heartwarming, helpful, and positive. “Thank you so much for considering our church, let’s see if we can get you to the right person….”

How about a blurb on the website about weddings?  A wedding packet that is well-written, positive, and emailable?  Electronic access to the wedding calendar for church staff?  Guidelines that uphold the sanctity of the event?  Or, consider this, a church field trip to one of the nearby secular wedding venues to hear their sales pitch?  Is your church located near a popular reception venue?  Could you form a partnership? 

Perhaps, all that is needed is a good, old-fashioned sit-down with all the involved church staff and volunteers to discuss how wedding inquiries should and will be handled in the future.  A little introspection and focused thought could probably go a long way.  If you want weddings in your church, you may need to recognize and respond to your couple’s needs.  Yes, that sounds a little like “marketing.”  Shhh, I won’t tell anyone. 

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