Friend officiating a wedding ceremony
Couples are straying away from the cookie-cutter weddings of the past and looking to personalize their ceremonies in unique and memorable ways.

Popular wedding website The Knot conducts an annual wedding survey that tracks industry trends and the decisions couples make when planning wedding cermeonies.

One of their most striking findings from a recent survey: 43 percent of couples chose to have a friend or family member officiate their ceremony. That number was up from 29 percent just ten years prior.

So, what accounts for this substantial increase in such a short period of time? What makes friends and family such a popular option when selecting a wedding officiant? There are a number of theories that could explain this recent shift.

Losing Their Religion

One potential explanation is that people simply aren’t as religious as they used to be. Without a pastor or other type of faith leader in their lives, couples are looking for alternatives that don’t involve hiring a stranger to officiate the ceremony. As traditional religion continues to lose influence, there is increasing demand for wedding ceremonies that involve a more unique or personalized flavor – some of which leave faith out of the ceremony entirely.

This is especially true for young people, who happen to be the group most likely to be planning a wedding. In fact, research shows that millennials are abandoning religion at rates not seen before in the United States. A recent Pew Research poll found that a whopping 36 percent of younger adults now identify as either atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.”

The National Geographic noted in its own 2016 report that the “no-religion” crowd has overtaken Catholics, mainline Protestants and all non-Christian followers in much of North America and Europe. France and New Zealand will soon boast secular majorities, while the United Kingdom and Australia are set to lose their own Christian majorities.

Alternative Options Gain Popularity

However, just because people are abandoning traditional religion doesn’t mean they’re eschewing faith entirely. Increasingly, they are being drawn to alternative spiritual organizations – such as the Universal Life Church – where they don’t have to deal with discriminatory rules, judgemental policies, or tithing expectations.

It just so happens that along with ULC membership comes the authority to preside over wedding ceremonies – a role that many ministers embrace with enthusiasm.

Convenient and Cost Effective

Another aspect that cannot be overlooked is the unmatched convenience of online ordination. Because the ordination process is simple and all-inclusive, the couple is free to ask whoever they want to officiate – knowing it won’t be a burden for them to sign up.

Not only that, but it makes financial sense, too; having someone you know perform the ceremony is a great way to save money on a tight wedding budget. Interestingly, market research company The Wedding Report found that the average cost of a wedding in 2018 fell 4% from the previous year. Fewer couples shelling out to hire a traditional officiant was likely a contributing factor.

Personalization Is In

'Queer Eye' star Bobby Berk officiating weddings during the NYC Pride parade.
Queer Eye star Bobby Berk (center) got ordained online to officiate weddings at NYC Pride.

Finally, couples are straying away from the cookie-cutter weddings of the past and looking to personalize their ceremonies in unique and memorable ways. As many are discovering, one of the best options for adding a personal element is asking a close friend or loved one preside over the occasion.

Of course, as Queer Eye star Bobby Berk found out recently, a celebrity can fit that role as well. Berk first became ordained in order to marry three couples at the New York City Pride Parade back in June. “I never thought I’d be crying on a parade float, but there I was. It was such an honor. You used to have to get married in a courthouse or a church. Now it’s more personal. It’s way more special,” he recounted. Apparently, his services are now a hot commodity – Berk has since received over 1,000 Twitter requests from fans of his show asking him to officiate their weddings.

Regardless of which factor (or combination of factors) is driving the trend, having family and friends officiate ceremonies is clearly becoming the new norm. What do you think best explains this historic shift?

36 comments

  1. Rev. Laurie G. Cleveland, RN says:

    I think it’s great that Bobby got ordained, but it appears to be a somewhat formal weddnig and there he is with a Cheers Queers t-shirt in the picture. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, and I certainly would break tradition for a couple who is Wiccan or Pagan and wear my HP robes for that, but otherwise, unless speicifically asked, I’d probably get a minister’s robe and stole for the occasioin. Granted, everything goes these days and I get that, but I also feel that marriages and deaths deserve some sort of decorum during the service. Afterwards, I’m all in, lol.

    1. arawngraalrd says:

      Naked would work for me.

    2. Shannon Robertson says:

      I myself ask the bride and groom what they would like me to wear. I have had family that did a masquerade wedding and they wanted me in a blue gown and mask. It was different but a lot of fun because it was special to them. I try to individualize each service to fit the the personalities of the bride and groom. It is their day so I figure let’s make it the most memorable.

      Minister Shannon Robertson

  2. Jim D says:

    I think this is great. Everyone should have their weddings the way they want them, and that includes the officiants.

    I agree with Rev. Laurie; Bobby Berks T-shirt with cut-off sleeves wouldn’t be my cup of tea for proper wedding attire, but hey, it’s not my wedding. I like the idea of the officiant dressed to fit the theme of the wedding. Beach wedding on an island, wear loose, white shirt and pants. Medieval theme, dress like Friar Tuck. Have some fun with it.

  3. Ben says:

    First, it’s appropriate for me to say, I’m a pagan, An eclectic-witch.

    I’ve performed 3 weddings – all for friends.
    * The 1st was a full on pagan/Wiccan wedding/hand-fasting. This was a back yard affair.
    * The 2nd was a pagan/Wiccan wedding/hand-fasting, but toned down, as most of the attendees were non-pagan. This was at the beach.
    * The 3rd was a spiritual event, but the couple weren’t particularly religious. They wanted to be married before the universe and was held inside their home.

    I haven’t worn robes, because the couples haven’t wanted me too.

    All went well, and all my couples are still together.

    For reference, they were all Gen-Xers.

    1. Carl Elfstrom says:

      I think it’s wonderful that more and more people are breaking free from traditional religions and marriage ceremonies. I too am a Pagan of the Wiccan variety; a natural eclectic solitary, initiated in 1980. And you may also know me as Raven Apollo. Blessed be your feet that have carried you here, Ben, and all the way up. I’m sure you know the rest. And the same thing applies to Rev. Laurie. Blessed be, and welcome to the ULC minister’s blog! I first got completely away from traditional religions when I was sixteen, in 1979, and was initiated in Wicca the following year, after my year and a day of training. However, I’m still single, and have never been very interested in the idea of marriage. I’m not against it, and can see how it can be a beautiful thing for those who are into that, but personally I can’t see why people can’t just live together for as long as they want, and go their separate ways when they want to, without any of it being a legal matter. Of course, I’m also a hippie at heart, and maybe all that has something to do with why I haven’t officiated a wedding yet. I’ve attended plenty of them, both straight and gay, at churches, parks, bars, and on the beach. I even attended a biker wedding at an A.A. clubhouse, and the officiant became a ULC minister while on death row. He escaped from death row twice, but was eventually executed. This article has definitely gotten me to think about it though. If anything becomes of it, I’ll let y’all know. Blessed be!

  4. Alvin Jones says:

    I think that is Great. With alll of the changes in the religious community today, I welcome family members to be a part of a new edition to the family….From both sides!! It is like welcoming a new born!

  5. Tom B says:

    This is an excellent trend….aside from the value of getting away from the organized religions, the truly personal service is so much more warmly received…Peace…Tom B

  6. John A Anderson, CD, CIF Mons ON says:

    I wear my old dress uniform, minus all the bells and whistles. It looks like a suit, but is calm enough to not attract attention. After all, I tend towards NOT attracting too much attention. And, I’ve done a few for friends and family, and saved them a bit of cash in the process.

  7. Rev. Meghan Gurley says:

    I started my wedding/marriage ministry exactly for this reason – personalized, unique, hand-written ceremonies for each couple. The upside to hiring someone like me, however, is that I have 10 years of experience officiating weddings. Yes, a friend might know you better, but after several consultations and a stamp of approval on the ceremony, every couple gets that personalized service, while knowing if there is a problem, I know how to solve it. I don’t need a mic, but know how to use one. I know how to read an audience. I know how to keep the guests’ attention. I can offer unique rituals you might not have thought of. I officiate every religion you can imagine, and then some. I can even run the rehearsal. Can your friend do all that? Plus, your friends should be there to support you and have fun. Having a “friend-or” (friend/vendor) means your guest has to work, not completely enjoy, your wedding.

    1. Brian Jeremy Richman says:

      Sounds a lot like my reason for being in here too. I perform perhaps 50 or more weddings a year and those are very much my ‘selling-points’.

    2. Albert Yeung says:

      Happy to know there is an outstanding wedding officiant helping people perform the wedding.

  8. Chris says:

    I’ve attended funerals and weddings where the clergy in charge took the opportunity to make an alter call. In my opinion such a thing is completely uncalled for in those situations, and I know the people the services were for, for the most part, felt the same way. I talked to them about it afterward and found in most cases it hadn’t been planned or discussed. I think a lot of other people have attended services with similar happenings and don’t want to risk it happening to them.

    When I got married the last time, my son performed the ceremony. He and I are both ordained through ULM, and it meant a lot to have him do it. Personalization is also a very big factor.

    1. Ben says:

      Chris,
      Please excuse my ignorance. What’s an altar call?

      1. Rev.Brian. says:

        Altar calls are an Evangelical thing where they call anyone wanting to be saved/renew commitment to the altar to profess what they have found. All very inappropriate at anything other than a Sunday service IMV.

      2. Carlton says:

        An altar call is when everyone gathers around an alter for the clergy member to pray over and among the people in a public display with everyone holding hands around the alter or some other type of religious element.

  9. Lakshmi Kalyanam (Star Maa) says:

    I do not know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading your article. I will keep visiting this blog very often. I’ll use this information for my work.

  10. Amber says:

    I think it means two things. The first has to do with heads of churches trying to push for more parishioners. It isn’t unusual for a pastor to say “I’ll marry you under the condition you come join us at our church.” My brother and several friends over the years have run into that problem.

    The second thing is people are pulling more and more away from the idea of a church wedding and more into different venues for their weddings than a church setting, with close friends and family instead of half the country with friends of friends of friends invited. What better than to have a dear friend be able to legally sign off on the marriage.

    1. Ben says:

      Amber,
      I’m not a member of a church and in no way encouraging their methods, but think of this.

      In a way, I understand why churches do that. 30 years ago, I was episcopal. The idea was, that the church wasn’t a wedding mill. The church was performing a community service by marrying people.
      On the practical side, a church, it needs parishioners and needs to grow. How else is it to afford the building & grounds, not to mention salaries?
      Now, in this day and age, churches need to adapt their strategies.

  11. David Dingledy says:

    I certainly am in favor of more personalized and less traditional weddings with bride and groom giving their input into the contents of the service. Back in 2016, I was honored when my son asked me to officiate at his wedding. I received certification from Universal Life Church and prepared the service with their approval. I still wore a suit. The bride and her entourage wore the traditional gowns. The groom and his group, however, were dressed in flannel shirts, jeans, and suspenders–reflective of the area where the wedding took place which was a wooded rural section of Maine. It was a great celebration, needless to say. I may be a Catholic by tradition and current church membership, but I try to be ecumenical in my outlook and certainly favor the directions being taken by modern couples. My wife and I have been married for 46 years. However, our wedding was rather untraditional. We were married in the chapel of a Unitarian church, our minister was of the United Church of Christ (and also my cousin and best friend), and we wrote up our own vows, although we kept some traditional Biblical readings and the minister’s sermon intact. At the time, we were both unchurched and found it to be the best way to join a knot that’s still been strong all these years. Thanks for sharing.

  12. VICTORIA PARISI says:

    I’m proud to be a minister with this church…presiding over my 1St wedding this Saturday.

    1. Chris Baglieri says:

      Good luck!

    2. Albert Yeung says:

      How can you do the 1st wedding minister? Can you describe it and comment it?

      1. Shannon Robertson says:

        If you could be more precise on what your asking it can be easier to answer.
        I set up two meeting to get to know the bride and groom on a more personal level so that I could create my own sermon that would make it extra special for them and their families. Because you must see that you’re not just joining two people together you are joining two families as one. So I needed to learn about them as individuals and about their independent families.
        I never use the same sermon. I may add pieces of one to another, but as I said earlier I try to make the sermon personal to the couple.
        I did goof up on a word while joining them and I quickly apologized and continued as if it was not a problem. You really need to practice the sermon with the bridal party. I set up two days close to the wedding date and was an appropriate time to get all or most of the party their to rehearse. Rehearsals will help you be more confident on the wedding day so I would highly recommend that.

        Shannon Robertson

        1. Albert yeung says:

          Thank you.
          For most people, satisfaction will make them happy.

  13. Helen Kahn says:

    Has completely depleted my officiating clientele.

  14. Craig says:

    I have experience from four weddings I’ve performed. Three have happened because the couples had no strong ties to a church or group. The fourth had had a falling out with their church and did not want them involved.

    What I have done is created a list of questions to ask the couple, ranging from their expectations to colors to format for the ceremony. I always ask how they want me to dress for the occasion. I arrange an hour sit down (give or take) to meet and ask questions and to get a real feel for how formal or informal they want their ceremony. Going along with that is asking how much religious interjection is wanted (if any). Of the four weddings I’ve had a variety of requests concerning content and layout.

    Above all, it is their day and I am there to help them create the most memorable day for them, whatever that means.

    1. Shannon Robertson says:

      Amen! You said everything perfectly. I could not agree more with your comment on this subject.

  15. Casey says:

    With my wife and I, we had a lay minister perform the ceremony since we would have to unite three pretty different views of faith if we wanted a religious-based service. My family is half Catholic, half Methodist, my wife’s Episcopalian (as am I now, though I wasn’t then) and my wife’s family is agnostic overall and atheist in a few cases. Secular was the only way to go.

    1. Rev. Meghan Gurley says:

      I hear that quite a bit – that multiple religions are present, so they have to water it down to a secular service. I disagree! When I’m officiating, I like to incorporate wording and ritual from each religion. Guests aren’t as judgmental as you’d think. Most are excited to hear something familiar, but also be introduced to another way of faith. I just officiated a ceremony of a Muslim Indian bride and Methodist white groom. A prayer was said in Arabic, the Lord’s Prayer in English, and I tied the knot of stoles worn by the couple (a tradition in some parts of India). It was a much more meaningful service than a secular ceremony. And the guests had lots to ask and talk about afterward.

      1. Albert Yeung says:

        Don’t you ever reject a wedding officiate? Before its better, if half way, it will damage the wedding. That’s why people don’t use church pastor. Pay may have better service.

  16. KJ (Father Johnni) MacKenzie-Anderson says:

    As a family/friend I’ve officiated over quite a few very different wedding days. All of them were non-religious and person-specific weddings where I and the happy couples (both gay and straight) wrote the whole personal vows and wedding occasion as they wanted it to happen. There’s been 3 straight, 5 gay, one lesbian, 2 transgender, 4 medieval dress, i weirdly wiccan, I Romano-Greek, I Hobbit, I Neo-Pagan-Non-Deity, 2 Klingon, I full highland dress Bonnie Price Charlie-style and 1 Rocky Horror Wedding Protocol (it was astounding). Never mind the happy couples, I’ve had a ball! I am now though retired from officiating due to illness and disability

    1. Kris Carpenter says:

      This, right here, is the exact reason why I decided to become ordained! I believe that same couples other than straight deserve the chance to get married, and grow old and bitter with the person they love lol. I hate that not all sexes and genders aren’t allowed to be as miserable as straight couples are, so I got ordained when I found out that same sex marriage was legal where I live. And I want people to have fun at their weddings, and not just at the reception. I want the groom to be able to wear the dress and the bride the tux. Or have a themed wedding that’s based on fan fiction shipping, or a themed wedding based on their favorite TV show. Or whatever other kind of ceremony they want, you know?? The traditional wedding is slowly dying out, and the religious leaders and court houses don’t exactly want to officiate a wedding dressed up as a priest from Game of Thrones lol. Which is where we come in!!

      I haven’t actually done any ceremonies yet, so I’m kinda terrified to do one, but I’m able to officiate when I’m ready, and when my friends are ready to get married!

  17. Oldaabill says:

    I was married the first time by a Justice of the Peace. The marriage ended in divorce seven years later. I was married the second time by a Presbyterian Preacher (a friend from AA) in my mother’s Methodist Church, in a meeting room, not the main assembly. The marriage lasted thirty years when my wife died of cancer. I was married the third time by a County Probate Judge, with his secretary as the witness. We have been married eight years and the marriage is very good. I believe the contract is between the partners being married, not the method of the union. The commitment needs to be registered with the state to be legally enforceable. So, basically, the signature of the official, is as a witness to the legality of the union, not the spiritual commitment.

  18. Kris Carpenter says:

    I don’t want to say trend or fad, bc I feel they imply that having a friend or online ordained minister perform the ceremony will die out like acid washed jeans or 60’s bell bottom pants lol. But I think that a part of the reason for this “trend” is bc we see it on tv so often, and the ceremonies are always small, simple, delicate, beautiful, and they’re either romantic or fun. And everybody knows that what goes on in TV Land, has to happen in real life, so people follow suit. I’ve had a friend tell me that she wants me to wear overalls and a straw cowboy hat, she wants to wear a white bikini with frilly bits, and the groom to wear just overalls, and get married on the back of a truck, then he carries her over to a giant mud pit, and they throw each other in and lather each other up with mud lol. I’ve also had a lot of friends tell me that they want themed weddings; most of them are Game of Thrones themes, the couple usually being Khal Drogo and Khaleesi, but I’ve also had one say they want to be Jon Snow and Yygrette. I’ve had other shows or movies mentioned, and the reason they mentioned them to me, is bc they don’t feel that a religious leader(pastor or minister) the court house, would do themed weddings like those.
    I feel like there’s a ton of pressure from the religious leaders to make the marriage last, even if you grow to hate each other; idk about some of ya’ll, but “til death do us part” seems way too serious for a time that’s supposed to be full of fun, and joy, and the kind of love that makes you stupid lol. I feel that when some people look back at their wedding video, and they see the ceremony, the bride and groom just standing there looking at each other, with the official standing there telling them what to say, and do for the rest of their lives, that they might regret having a traditional wedding that, to me, is kinda boring and where the most interesting part is the love and smiles the couple have on their faces. I think having a less serious ceremony can take the pressure off and remind people who they married, and why they married them.

    1. Ben says:

      Kris;
      I miss acid washed jeans …
      In the weddings I’ve performed, the bride & groom have all written their own vows.
      I’ve thoroughly enjoyed performing these ceremonies.

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