By Jeff Brumley
Marriage isn’t what it used to be. That’s no surprise.
But ministers and researchers are reporting getting married is rapidly changing, too, with Millennials getting much — though not all — of the credit.
And the most noticeable difference than even just a few years ago: fewer and fewer weddings are happening in churches.
Even for those who are active in church.
“I have done 30 weddings, and only one has been in a church — and that wasn’t even in their home church, ” said LeAnn Gardner, a Baptist minister and licensed clinical social worker who officiates weddings in her native city of Charleston, S.C.
“Even if people have really strong faith, they don’t want to be married in the church,” Gardner said.
No longer looking to churches
A study by the Public Religion Research Institute bears out Gardner’s anecdotal observations with, it found, 18 to 29 year olds leading the way.
According to PRRI’s 2013 American Values Survey, 37 percent in that age range were married in a secular location by a non-religious officiant. The same was true for 29 percent of those 30 to 49 years old, 24 percent of 50 to 64 year olds and 20 percent of those 65 and older.
An increase in the number of interfaith and religiously unaffiliated couples is contributing to these trends, PRRI Research Director Dan Cox wrote in an article for Yahoo News.
This fall, he said, “an increasing number of Americans will no longer look to churches or other religious institutions to supply the stage or the lead actors for” their weddings.
Venue isn’t the issue
And while many ministers have adjusted to the trend by officiating weddings off-site, for some of them it took an adjustment.
A few years back, Brett Younger said, a couple from his church asked him to lead a wedding that was to be conducted on a hot-air balloon. After saying their vows, the bride and groom intended to parachute back down to the wedding party.
Younger — associate pastor of preaching at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology — said no.
“At the time, I said I think that would be interesting and fun, but I thought we would lose the sacredness of the event,” he said.
That may not be his answer if asked today.
“But since then I have done weddings in living rooms and backyards and parks and on the side of a mountain,” he said.
What Younger tells his students is that the important thing is that Christ be invited to the wedding and that, as future ministers, they remain true to their callings and to the gospel.
Younger said he officiated an out-door, Christ-centered wedding of two seminary graduates.
“The question isn’t the venue,” he said. “If it is about giving their marriage to God, when you do it.”
In his ministry coaching churches and pastors, Mark Tidsworth said he sees this trend as ever increasing. What he hasn’t seen is that it’s being led by young adults or those who are in the so-called “Nones” category.
As often as not they are church-going people and middle-aged or older — the latter group often embarking on their second or third marriage, said Tidsworth, an author and president of South Carolina-based Pinnacle Leadership Associates.
It’s also a trend that many pastors are going along with the popularity of destination and other non-church ceremonies, he said.
“A lot of pastor colleagues and people we coach are traveling to do weddings with their people from church, going to a beach or to the Keys,” he said. “Some have been to Europe and others just around their own communities.”
All of it, Tidsworth said, is part of the larger movement toward the de-institutionalization of faith life.
“These people still believe in marriage and value marriage, they just don’t feel constrained to have to do that in a church setting,” he said. “And that seems consistent with the Nones and the Dones — and with many active church people.”