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How long is a wedding ceremony? What to Include and What to Skip

Published Monday, Jun. 28th, 2021

Illustrations by Jessica Levey

Learn the ceremony length ‘sweet spot’ and plan a wedding ceremony that’s not too long or too short. 


At AMM, we think the ‘sweet spot’ for most wedding ceremonies is around 15 to 20 minutes long. 


Why? Because there are two questions you never want guests to be wondering on the wedding day: 


“Ughhh… will this ceremony ever end?”  and “Wait, was that it…?”



Wedding ceremonies that run too long can lead to boredom, impatience, and grumpiness -- and that’s just for the adults! Long weddings are even more difficult for children to sit through. But weddings that are over in the blink of an eye have their downsides, too, especially if guests have traveled a substantial distance (and at their own expense and effort) to make it to the venue.  


If you’ve been asked to marry a friend or relative, are planning a wedding, or are new to the world of professional wedding officiants, trust us -- this is valuable information to have. 


We think that 15 to 20 minutes is the ‘sweet spot’ because it gives everyone at the event enough time to feel like they’ve participated in something that’s meaningful and worth the trek, but without the risk of putting anyone to sleep. It’s not too long, it’s not too short, it’s just right.


What to Include


This average length will depend on the parts of the ceremony a couple wants to include, and should accommodate as many of their desired elements as possible.


Typically, this will be: the procession, an invocation that includes a welcome and the couple’s story, a declaration of intent (if needed in your state), the vows, a ring exchange and/or other unity ritual, the pronouncement, and the recession. 


Leaving out one or two of these common elements might cause the ceremony to run too short, and guests may wonder if they missed something… or if the couple is actually married. 


Here are a few examples of how to use your time, with each circle representing 20 minutes...



Illustration of a pie chart, with each piece representing a different part of an imagined wedding ceremony  Illustration of a pie chart, with each piece representing a different part of an imagined wedding ceremony  Illustration of a pie chart, with each piece representing a different part of an imagined wedding ceremony


Illustration of a pie chart, with each piece representing a different part of an imagined wedding ceremony      Illustration of a pie chart, with each piece representing a different part of an imagined wedding ceremony




Adding a symbolic unity ceremony (such as a sand ceremony, handfasting, stone blessing, or unity candle ritual) can make a simple wedding feel deeply meaningful. Talk to the couple about this early, before you start writing the wedding script, to ensure there’s plenty of time. The same principle applies if the couple wants friends and family to participate by reading a poem, piece of scripture, or excerpt from a book, or in some other unique way. 


Be aware: Religious weddings often run much longer than non-religious weddings do, especially if they take place in a church or are very formal. 


For example, Jewish weddings that include multiple readings or rituals can run 25 to 45 minutes long; Methodist, Baptist, and other Protestant weddings that include periods of prayer and blessings can last 30 minutes or more; Catholic weddings (without a mass) can last 30 to 45 minutes; and a Hindu wedding ceremony can last 2 hours or more. 



What to Skip


Read the ceremony script out loud at a comfortable pace, and pause during special readings and transitions between sections. Use a timer. How long does it take you to read the full script? 


If it consistently runs over 20 minutes, cut any sentences that don’t add to the overall tone and emotion of the ceremony, and consider simpler ways to describe the couple’s love story. 


Don’t pad the ceremony with too many jokes, casual remarks, or banter (unless this is specifically what the couple’s hoping for). We recommend limiting special readings to 2 or fewer, unless the couple is certain they want a longer ceremony with a lot of guest participation.


The day of the wedding, skip delays by bringing extra copies of the script, special readings, and vows. Make sure to plan the processional and recessional order ahead of time, so that each member of the party is ready to go. And do your best to avoid making nervous remarks or pausing unnecessarily after small mistakes during the ceremony, as this will only take up extra time. (And bring more attention to the mistake… which might go unnoticed otherwise!) 



So how long does a wedding ceremony last? 


Ultimately, the answer depends on the couple’s wishes, as well as their culture, family traditions, and spiritual or religious leanings (or lack thereof). Some couples will want a longer ceremony with many different elements, and others will prefer a quick signature-only service that takes only a few minutes. 


But for most modern weddings, we recommend you plan a ceremony that falls within the tried-and-true ceremony sweet spot -- around 15 to 20 minutes total. 


To get started, visit our Wedding Ceremony Script Library for useful templates and sample scripts. 



To learn more about planning a ceremony, read  Asked to Officiate.



image is a photograph of the wedding planning guide Asked to Officiate sitting on a desk next to a cup of coffee and other wedding books


Asked to Officiate is the most comprehensive and easy-to-use guide to writing and conducting wedding ceremonies. It will walk you through each part of the process step by step.


Order a copy



You might also like: 





Asked to officiate?  


You only get one shot to deliver a perfect wedding ceremony.



There’s no ‘take-two’ when it comes time for a couple to say ‘I do’--  Wedding officiants only get one shot to perform a perfect wedding ceremony. 








Give yourself the tools and training you deserve to succeed as a wedding officiant, so that you can stand beside the lucky couple with complete confidence on their big day. 







Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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