There’s no doubt that organising a wedding is both an exciting and challenging time. With copious amounts of decisions to make about the big day, you’ll be pouring over every detail; from where Aunt Hilda will sit, to the nail polish you’ll wear!

But one of the biggest decisions to make is whether to have a church wedding ceremony or civil ceremony. Both have their merits, which is why it’s a very personal decision to each couple. Here we examine the pros and cons of both.

Civil Wedding Vs a Church Wedding

We are privileged to live in a society that celebrates the many different cultures and beliefs that form it. As such, wedding church ceremonies and civil marriages are both available options for couples. However, the latest figures reveal that traditional church ceremonies are on the decline, accounting for just a quarter of all marriages today. 

Religious v Civil – what’s the difference?  Well, there are two main factors – religion and location.

If you desire a religious celebration, you can opt for a church wedding ceremony. For many couples who chose this traditional approach, saying their vows in a church is one of the most important parts of their big day, you may have a local church that means a lot to you, or you go to, therefore this maybe an obvious choice for you.

The other factor is location. If you always dreamt of saying ‘I do’ on a hilltop, a beach, or if you would prefer a non-religious occasion, then a civil marriage is the alternate option.

What to expect from a wedding ceremony?

Religious weddings take place in a church, chapel or any other religious venue, presided over by a priest, vicar or official holy person. Many opt for a wedding church ceremony not just for religious reasons, but because they enjoy the tradition of the occasion too.

In the Catholic Church, both couples need to be baptised Christians, and one must be Catholic. Marriage classes may also be required. However, you do not have to be religious to marry in the Church of England.

Typically, you will need to marry in a church that you have some connection to. This is usually determined by residence in the parish at some point. 

Getting married in a church versus outside means that you can enjoy all the pomp and ceremony of a traditional wedding. This includes the bride wearing a wedding gown and groom in a suit.

If for instance, you decide to have a civil marriage abroad and want a Catholic blessing afterwards, this is possible. Getting married in the Catholic Church after a civil ceremony is recognised as ‘convalidation’. This allows couples to retake their vows in an officiated ceremony.

Planning a church wedding

The first in organising your wedding church ceremony is to speak to the priest or vicar in your church of preference. They will likely want to sit down and discuss marriage with you in some detail.

Since your big day will be determined by your wedding ceremony, it’s important to get this confirmed before booking reception venues or suppliers. Churches can be booked out months in advance, so aim to give as much notice as possible; ideally at least six to twelve months.

What to expect from a civil ceremony?

Although civil marriages are more popular than religious ones, many couples still don’t know what is a civil ceremony and what it entails.

Simply put, a civil ceremony is a non-religious legally binding marriage. It is officiated by a legal representative or civil representative.

Usually these take place in a registry office or town hall, but couples also have the freedom to marry in any approved venue, in the U.K. or otherwise. This appeals to many couples who wish to say their vows in stunning backdrops; like beaches, mountains, or the countryside.


It tends to be a more relaxed gathering, where the couple can dress as they wish, as well as set the ceremony to be as short or long as desired. Couples have the flexibility to include bible readings, poems or extracts that are meaningful to them, rather than prescribed copy.

Civil marriages also lend themselves to same-sex couples, of which there were 15,000 marriages between March 2014 and October 2015.

Planning a civil wedding

A civil wedding can be organised in as little as a month. However, as with any celebration, it’s best to book your chosen venue as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

With a civil ceremony you have a lot more choice and the freedom to style your ceremony how you wish, the option of saying ‘I do’ on the beach, or in our own festival style wedding. There are more options when it comes to a civil ceremony and more flexibility with doing it how you want to do it.

Unlike churches, registry offices can undertake a number of bookings in any given day, so tend to have better availability.

In any case, in the U.K, you will need to register your intention to marry at the registry office at least 28 days in advance, which is displayed in the public register. You will also need to reside in the district for at least a week prior to giving notice. 

Which is right for me?

Most couples will already have an idea of the sort of wedding they want. Be it a tropical get-away with vows on the beach, a traditional church wedding ceremony, or any other kind of gathering to celebrate their nuptials. In some ways, their choice may already be determined before they begin.

Choosing a civil wedding is ideal for a relaxed non-religious gathering, offering greater flexibility on venues too. However, a church wedding ceremony integrates much-loved traditions in a religious context, that many feel underpins the constitution of marriage.

There are advantages and challenges with both. The most important factor when deciding a civil marriage versus a church marriage, is that the happy couple is exactly that – happy.

After all, marriage is the union of two people very much in love, wishing to pledge their unwavering allegiance to each other for the rest of their lives. The context in which this takes place should be a reflection of the couple and their values, as much as it is about religion, venue or tradition. Only then can a couple decide which is the right way to start their long and exciting future together.