Is the Church in America shrinking? Some recent surveys have indicated that while approximately 40% of Americans "say" that they attend church, a survey of the churches in America reveals that perhaps as few as 20% of Americans are actually participating in worship services across the country on Sunday. As Christians, it is important for us to be aware of the state of the Church here at home and around the world. God has called us to take the gospel message to His children throughout the world... even if that world is right in our own back yard.
So how do people encounter the Church? How do we invite people inside our churches and allow them to encounter God? How do we share His message and show His love?
How about a having a wedding.
I'm willing to bet that for some people, weddings are the most common time to enter into a worship setting. Perhaps for some, even the only time. What a great opportunity for us to invite our loved ones to church and share God's great love with them.
How can you get your family and friends to organize and show up at church all at the same time? Send them a wedding invitation and just put a date, time and location on it. There's something unique about that wedding invitation that will compel into church even those that would never enter on their own accord. Of course your family and friends are going to be there - your're getting married after all. They are your captive audience for an hour and they are paying close attention to the things that are said and done at your ceremony. How about pointing them toward God and sharing his message of love and salvation?
A wedding celebration can be more than a special day for the bride and groom. The world seems to focus on creating a storybook experience focused around two people. God's word teaches us that a marriage involves much more than a beautiful bride and stunning groom. God joins two people together in a covenant relationship of commitment in our wedding. It's a yielding to God and to one another in service to Him.
So how can you use your wedding ceremony to share God's love and His message of salvation? If you've sent out those invitations, you are off to a great start. As you are prepare the details of your ceremony, here are some ideas.
Pray while preparing for your marriage and also while preparing for your wedding ceremony. Through prayer, God will reveal to you how He wishes for you to share his message with your guests. On your wedding day, reserve time for corporate prayer with your bridesmaids or groomsmen before the wedding ceremony. Perhaps appoint someone in your wedding party to lead prayer - you will probably have too much on your mind. Pause before your wedding ceremony to listen to God and respond to his prompting.
Readings - Wedding Bible Verses
As you prepare the details of your ceremony, choose wedding bible verses that reflect the commitment you are making in your wedding. Work with your minister on the ceremony details. As you select verses, use your time of preparation to read His word and know and understand the context and message contained in the verses. Ask members of your family to participate with you and read scripture. Perhaps even have someone share about the meaning and context of the verses you have selected.
Wedding vows are a chance for you to speak your commitment before God and your friends and family. If you have the opportunity to write your own vows, start early and choose your words carefully. Let your vows reflect the commitment that you are making and how God's love is a part of that. Pray for God to reveal his intentions for you and your spouse as you assemble your vows. Be intentional about incorporating God's message of salvation.
You have gathered your friends and family together into a church. Why don't you have them all sing together too! The songs of worship that are incorporated as part of your service allow for your guests to participate in worship together. Choose the songs to be sung at your wedding with care. Be less concerned about songs about "love" and look for songs that simply and beautifully carry His message. At our wedding, my wife Mandi and I incorporated the new hymn *In Christ Alone* by Keith Getty - a song that has a very clear message and catchy tune. A couple of folks even commented on its impact to us after the ceremony.
Other Ceremony Elements
Beyond the traditional elements of a wedding ceremony, you have an opportunity to be creative in how you share God's message. In our wedding, Mandi and I incorporated the Cord of Three Strands ceremony as a public display of the new relationship we entered into. There are other elements such as the unity candle, sand ceremony or others that can provide both a memorable element for you and your spouse as well as your guests. When incorporating something unique, think about how to share the message along with the element. We chose to have our minister read an explanation of the Cord of Three Strands ceremony as we performed it before our guests. Elements like this can provide an opportunity for further explanation of the covenant commitment and unique relationship we are entering in marriage.
At most wedding ceremonies, there is a short message delivered by the minister. Work with your minister on what will be shared in the message. Most ministers have a plan. They will probably be excited to work with you on crafting a message that uniquely shares God's message with your guests.
There is a lot of down time for those not in the ceremony to look over and think about anything that you have put into their hands. If you're printing up a bulletin, think about how you can incorporate God's message into your content. Perhaps write out the Bible verses in the bulletin. Or maybe include a short message of thanks for your guests that discusses how grateful you are for them coming to celebrate with you.
Hand Outs or Keepsakes
The bride and groom often include a small "favor" or gift at the wedding reception for guests to take with them. It's usually a small item that features their names and the date of their wedding. How could you use these keepsakes to incorporate God's message of Love? Perhaps rather than handing something out at the reception, you could include something at the ceremony. For example, the Cord of Three Strands Bookmarks provide context for that ceremony and are something useful for guests to take with them. Think creatively about what your guests might take with them to remember what was shared on your wedding day.
As you enter into marriage with your soon to be spouse, focus on being a reflection of God's great love. Find a way to plant a seed of His message and let Him lead. Surrender your heart to Him and bear witness to the change He has made in your life.