First Wesleyan Church on Shallowford Road has a space problem. There's too much of it.
The church was built in 1985 to seat 250 on Sunday mornings, but now it has only about 25 members.
First Wesleyan pastor Kevin Dunn has an idea he hopes will fill up the church for at least a few days a year: Free weddings.
Dunn, who has been pastor at the East Brainerd Church for three years, said a challenge for today's churches is to break out of a comfort zone.
"In the Bible, Christians were people of action," he said in an interview.
Dunn and his congregants at First Wesleyan are offering the no-cost use of their little white church to anyone who wants to get married.
They'll even throw in a reception hall (no alcohol please), and Dunn will preside over the "I dos" and guide the couple through premarital counseling. All for free.
"Some people frankly see it as a gimmick," Dunn said. "They ask, 'What is the catch?' But there is no catch."
Other churches charge from a few hundred to a few thousands dollars to rent a sanctuary for a nonmember wedding, he said.
According to a recent Gallup poll, about 45 percent of Americans attend church "seldom or never." Those who want a church wedding have to go shopping.
Dunn sees offering free weddings as a Christian mission, not necessarily a recruiting tool for his church. He says too many churches have stopped looking for innovative ways to reach out to their communities.
"In areas with affluence, many churches have veered off to create a businesslike environment," he said.
Vacation Bible School and revivals have their place, he said, but they are passive ministries that invite people to come and sample the church.
"Faith is like a two-winged airplane," Dunn said. "One wing is: Come and see. The other is: Go and tell."
Developing unconventional ministries is part of the "go and tell" commission, he said.
Dunn is a part-time minister who also works in as a sales representative for a machine-parts company and serves in the Army Reserves. He is a former manager in a Fortune 500 company who felt a midlife call to leave his materialistic life behind.
He said he used to drive nice cars and go on fancy vacations, but he realized that he wanted to do something more lasting with his life than accumulate wealth.
This change of heart was crystallized in his passion for a restored 1965 Mustang that was always picking up dings and paint chips. It reminded him that everything in the material world is fleeting.
As a former captain in the Army Reserves, Dunn served two tours of duty overseas, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He also returned to the ministry, his original vocation, to focus on things eternal.
If the number of people wanting free weddings outgrows his church, he'll try to find other ministers who will be his partners, he said.
In the meantime, to book your free wedding, call 423-894-9510 or 423-308-9081.
Couples, there's still time to have that June church wedding you've always dreamed of.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...