The answer to how long a typical wedding ceremony should be simple. But there are important things to consider, including the venue, guest participation, and the science of human attention.
The length of a wedding ceremony matters both to the couple and their guests. People expect the moment to be special, but they also don't want to be sitting through rituals and traditions that don't feel meaningful. We know everyone is looking forward to the cocktail hour and reception, but it would feel wrong to rush through the vows just to get through them.
If you're asking yourself "How long does a wedding ceremony last?" specifically because you want to know the average length of a wedding ceremony, this is something that we don't have conclusive data on. However, experience shows 15 minutes to 30 minutes to be ideal.
Understanding the moving parts of what goes into a wedding ceremony timeline and how it fits into the entire wedding day schedule is important, whether you're designing a ceremony or have been invited to one.
We'll do our best to lay out all of the considerations that go into developing the wedding ceremony schedule, from the processional to the final pronouncement.
What's the setting of the ceremony?
The length of the wedding ceremony depends in part on the particulars of the ceremony space on the day of the celebration.
Constraints come in the form of venue logistics (is there a time limit on the rented space?), details of the reception (can't let the food get cold), and time of year if the wedding is outdoors (nobody wants to be outside for 40 minutes in 95 degrees).
The wedding planning process is always time-sensitive, and a thoughtful wedding day timeline that considers these logistical elements and how all involved will be affected by them is key to a smooth flow on the big day.
How many people are included in the wedding party?
The wedding party or bridal party includes people that will accompany the couple as they stand at the altar. If a couple chooses more people to accompany them, that means a longer processional.
If there are children (such as the ring bearer and flower girl) or even pets, we might be waiting a bit longer for them to get down the aisle. Grandparents may also need additional assistance and time.
We recommend that the processional take about 2 minutes. A wedding planner often provides some valuable assistance to organize how the processional is carried out.
Is the wedding ceremony adhering to any religious traditions?
Most religious ceremonies follow a set format that can extend longer than the familiar Western wedding ceremony that is most common in the U.S.
An Islamic nikah is often quite short — less than 20 minutes — while wedding ceremonies that include a Catholic Mass can reach the hour mark or longer. Traditional Jewish and Christian ceremonies are somewhere in between, around 20 to 40 minutes.
Religious weddings often include specific readings from a holy text, a moment of prayer and blessings, or the singing of songs. Even when it's not a religious ceremony, secular or non-denominational ritual inclusions, such as a sand ceremony or a unity candle, are great ways to give meaning to the moment.
Are personalized traditions or rituals included?
Couples having a traditional religious wedding might want to add or remove certain elements to personalize the celebration. Catholic weddings do not always need to have a Mass, and a Buddhist wedding ceremony can include a moment of prayerful affirmation or meditation.
Those conducting a secular ceremony might want to include additional elements to highlight their principles and values. The symbolism of these elements can reinforce values such as unity, commitment, and community.
Some ceremony rituals take more time. The unity painting is one example, where the couple takes paint to a canvas to symbolize their collaborative and sometimes messy endeavor at life together. The Christian foot washing ritual which expresses service and humility also has several moving parts that can take more time to execute.
One of the essential practices is the signing of a marriage contract, which can be a ritual of its own within the ceremony (like the Ketubah of Jewish weddings) or done separately before or after the event. We recommend that the marriage contract be signed before or after the event to cut a few minutes from the ceremony length.
Who participates in the wedding traditions?
Great wedding ceremonies create opportunities for the couple to connect with each other and their community. This happens in standard wedding ceremony with a moment for readings prior to the wedding vows and ring exchange.
When multiple people are invited to share readings, more time is given to express these connections. We recommend that each reading be kept to a minute or less in length, allowing enough time for a few readings by more than one friend or family member if desired.
Other than readings, examples of rituals with group involvement include group prayer at the altar for a Christian or any spiritual ceremony, traditions that involve draping a large garland or lasso around the couple, and big entrance and exit parades.
One example of a unique unity ceremony is the ring warming ritual. The couple's rings are passed around to guests so that each person attending can imbue them with a blessing. It can be modified to include just the couple's family as a way to adjust the time it would take to pass the rings around.
In total, optional rituals should take no more than 5 minutes.
How long is the officiant's speech?
The officiant is the most important person involved aside from the couple. Their role can be lesser or greater depending on what they want to say and their relationship to the couple.
Professional officiants with little personal history with the couple will likely have a shorter speech. A speech from a longtime best friend could extend closer to 8 or 10 minutes. We recommend that the officiant keep their words within the 6 to 8 minute range so as to not take up too much space before the wedding vows.
The wedding officiant's speech will ideally be practiced ahead of time. We recommend a discussion with the couple to calibrate the length of the speech. A longer speech might be more appropriate if the speaker has real charisma.
There is no need to force a speech to be a certain length, because as with the rest of the ceremony, a short and sweet moment can still leave a strong impact.
What does science say about how long wedding ceremonies should be?
Studies in human attention indicate that the attention of an audience slowly starts to decline after 20 minutes.
This doesn't mean that your ceremony can't be 30 minutes long; it just means that if you decide to go for a longer ceremony you should be clear on all of the above considerations.
Distractions should be minimized. Sometimes a longer ceremony can add to distractions if the ceremony is not intentionally designed.
What is the couple's intention?
Some couples will want to linger on the special moment and others just want to get to the reception. As we've mentioned, a shorter ceremony is not inherently less meaningful and a longer ceremony is not necessarily more significant. What matters is setting an intention.
Nothing is more meaningful and intentional than the vows. Couples are increasingly writing their own vows, and this is a section of the ceremony that can vary in length. We recommend that vows spoken aloud last less than 3 minutes. Vows, like the marriage contract, can also be shared privately to shorten the ceremony.
It's important that the couple is clear on what they want from the entire celebration and how it connects to the bond they are forging. If the couple has a thoughtful approach to what matters most, naturally the length of the ceremony won't be an issue.
How long is our ideal wedding ceremony?
The sweet spot for us is at 20 minutes. And an average length does not mean an average wedding ceremony. If aiming for more than 20 minutes, the intention of every component should be relevant in a way that connects with the guests, and the wedding officiant should be ready with tons of charisma.
Here is a sample breakdown of every component:
Processional: 2 minutes
Officiant's Speech: 8 minutes
Ceremonial Rituals: 5 minutes
Vows: 3 minutes
Declaration of Intent & Ring Exchange: 2 minutes
Pronouncement: 1 minute
Total: 21 minutes
In the end, it's up to the couple and officiant (with help from a wedding planner if possible) to design the wedding ceremony and be mindful so that every component connects to what matters to them and their guests.
We can help with that!
Check out our wedding ceremony builder here.
We also make it easy to spruce up any wedding speech or script with guidance from our professional speechwriters.