How Long Is A Typical Wedding Ceremony? [What Can You Expect?]

Arguably, the most important part of your wedding day, it is only natural for engaged couples to have questions about the actual wedding ceremony. Who is involved in the ceremony, how to prepare for it and how long will the ceremony last to list but a few. Intrigued, I decided to spend some time researching to find out for good exactly what to expect. I will be sharing all that I could find here today.

So, how long is a typical wedding ceremony? The length of the Wedding ceremony is typically around 30 minutes long. However, this is subject to whether it is a religious or civil ceremony, the size of your respective bridal party and number of groomsmen and how many readings you would like to have. These different factors can shorten or extend the length of your ceremony, with some ceremonies lasting only around 10 minutes, and others (involving multiple readings etc) lasting around an hour.

Your wedding ceremony is the celebration of the love between you and your partner as well as the first step in the commitment of marriage, which is legally binding.

To ensure you have chosen a ceremony that will legally bind you in marriage, we would advise seeking the guidance of your provider.

Let us now take a closer look at the differences between a church service and a civil ceremony, and how that can impact the timeframes involved. We will also be covering what a wedding ceremony consists of, how can you prepare for them and if you can involve your family in the procession.

What Is The Difference Between A Church Service And A Civil Ceremony?

Deciding what type of ceremony would suit you as a couple is one of the first things to consider: are you going to have a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony?

For some couples, this is an easy decision. If you have a particular faith, belief or religious affiliation shared between you as a couple, it is likely that you will choose a wedding ceremony that reflects that.

For some couples, for whatever reason, a civil ceremony better reflects their lifestyle and love for one another. Ultimately, it is down to you as a couple to decide what would work best for you.

You may be wondering what are the main differences between and Religious ceremony and a Civil ceremony. And whilst there are many contrasting features, there are also some similarities too!

In a nutshell, a Civil ceremony contains no mention of God. Your ceremony will have no affiliation with religious sentiment or belief (unless as a couple, you choose to include an element of that in selected readings etc.). A Civil ceremony is legally binding.

Religious ceremonies on the other hand, are based in making the commitment of marriage with God as your witness. These are often held in places of worship, and can often have great sentimental value to the couple and their families.

Couples opting for a religious ceremony will likely be required to meet with the Priest, Rabbi or other Religious leader prior to their wedding to discuss particular elements of the ceremony.

With both ceremony options, couples marrying in the USA will be required to obtain marriage licences. In the UK, couples can only legally marry at licenced venues. We recommend contacting venues and marriage licence providers to discuss the legality of your chosen ceremony if you are unsure.

In both a Religious and Civil ceremony, the Couple and the Officiant will be required to sign the marriage licence or certificate. Not only does this usually conclude the formal proceedings – but it can make a memorable photo opportunity too!

What Does A Typical Wedding Ceremony Consist Of?

Unless you are choosing to have a Religious or civil ceremony that has been planned for you, it is generally understood that there is no set order for a wedding ceremony.

This meaning you can tailor it to best reflect you as a couple. What you choose to include in your ceremony will affect the length of the proceedings. Remember, this is your day and your moment, you can decide the length of the ceremony.

Generally, all wedding ceremonies will include:

  • Entrance of the groom, either as part of the ceremony or prior to the arrival of the bride or groom. The groom’s face upon seeing his future husband or wife for the first time walking down the aisle can make for an excellent photo opportunity! Be sure to mention this to your photographer if it is something that you would like.
  • Wedding processional, the entrance of the bridal party (or groom’s party) and their parents. Usually a traditional wedding march or selected meaningful song will be played to signify their arrival and as they walk down the aisle (get your tissues ready!)
  • Readings, typically these will be selected by the bride and groom prior to their ceremony and can be read by friends, family or the person marrying you. Often readings are chosen to highlight the bride and groom’s feelings towards their union, they can be romantic readings, poetry, readings with religious connotations or written specifically for the couple.
  • Romantic music, to create atmosphere couples may choose to have music playing quietly prior to their ceremony in preparation for the guests’ arrival, most couples will then choose a song for the wedding procession (entrance of the bridal party) and one for the recessional (exit of the newlyweds), typically the recessional song is upbeat and symbolizes the couples love!
  • Vows, the promises of love and commitment made to one another, some couples choose to write their own, others choose to read vows that have particular prominence or religious meaning to them, whatever you choose, this will undoubtedly be a magical part of your ceremony.
  • Exchange of rings, the exchange of rings between the marrying couple traditionally symbolizes everlasting love. Sentimental and special this part of the ceremony could well be a tear jerker!
  • First kiss, those famous words ‘you may now kiss each other!’ we wonder how many couples rehearse their first kiss to avoid any awkward (but adorable!) nose bumping moments!?
  • Signing of the licence / register, grab a pen, grab your witnesses and grab a photo!
  • The recessional, play some up-beat music and head off as newlyweds to your reception and celebrate- YOU’RE MARRIED!

How Do You Prepare For Your Wedding Ceremony?

If you are opting for a religious ceremony, Christian, Catholic, Jewish or Hindu for example, there are several other sacraments and points of religious significance that will be included in your ceremony.

We would recommend discussing these with the person who will be marrying you in preparation for your ceremony.

It may be required that the couple attend marriage preparation classes if opting for a Religious ceremony.

If you are having a Civil service, it is also a good idea to meet with whoever is conducting your ceremony to discuss and rehearse the finer details of your ceremony. Including timings, songs and readings.

Can You Ask Friends And Family To Do Readings?

Couples should select their readings well in advance of their ceremony and give the reading to the person they would like to read it during the ceremony.

If you have friends or family members that you feel would like to be involved within your wedding but they are not members of the bridal party or groomsmen, asking them to do a reading is a great way of making them a part of your day.

Alternately, bridesmaids (including Maid of Honour), groomsmen, parents or the person leading your ceremony can also do the reading in your ceremony. 

The readings selected can often be highly sentimental for the bride and groom as well as the guests and wedding party.

When considering who to ask to do a reading, think about those who will not only feel confident to speak but also those who would be willing to emphasize the meaning behind the chosen reading.

Having more than one reading will extend the length of your ceremony, however do not let this deter you from including readings that have meaning to you as a couple.

What About After The Ceremony?

While the ceremony is perhaps the most important part of the day, ironically it is one of the shortest parts.

What follows are the celebrations, that you can enjoy with both your day guests and those that arrive later.

The second part of the day is known as the wedding reception, which lasts on average between 6-8 hours.

During this time the wedding breakfast, speeches, first dance and cake are cut, along with the serving of the evening food.

The reception is considered to be a distinct part of the day, separate from the ceremony.

Most weddings usually finish up around 12pm, but some go long into the night where after parties sometimes occur.

Final Verdict

The length of your ceremony will depend on may different things. The processional, number of readings, inclusion of songs or hymns and whether you have a religious ceremony or not will all impact the length of the service.

A typical wedding ceremony will last between 30-40 minutes and include key elements such as: the processional, readings, music, vows, exchange of rings, first kiss, signing the marriage licence and the recessional as newlyweds!

If you have any further questions specific to your ceremony, we would always recommend contacting the person who will be marrying you, as they will be able to provide clarity and specific timings for your service.