The Only Wedding Rehearsal Guide You Will Ever Need!

I have read much of what’s online about wedding rehearsals, and even paid $17 for a highly promoted ebook on the subject. I’ve been less than impressed. Even when there’s some helpful information, the formatting is so bad that’s it’s hard to read, and hard to use.

Here I’ve tried to improve on anything else you’ll find out there, and give you more complete information than you’ll find anywhere else in a readable form – along with some helpful downloads.

This is not book-knowledge, or repeating what others have said for years, but grows out of my personal experience of working with hundreds of weddings.

There are three main sections to this article:

1. Typical questions people ask about rehearsals.

2. Tips for your rehearsal.

3. Six simple steps to a successful rehearsal.

I hope you find this info helpful, and if you have suggestions or questions about something not covered, please let me know. And please use the “share” buttons at the end of the post.


1. Do we need to have a rehearsal?

Rehearsals are primarily for your wedding party so they know where they are coming in from, where to stand, how to turn, etc. and for a final working out of logistics (examples: where to place the Unity Candle and a speaker’s stand for readers).

So, if you don’t have any wedding attendants, or your wedding is very small and informal, then probably you don’t need a rehearsal. For all others, the answer is yes. But this leads to the next questions:

2. When and where do we have the rehearsal, and who should attend?


Traditionally, the “when” is the Friday evening before a Saturday ceremony – and this may work best for you. But couples are getting married on different days/times now. Plus some wedding venues have a full weekend schedule of weddings that prevents the traditional route. So you may have to have a rehearsal at 3 pm on a Friday afternoon for instance.

Some popular venues even have the rehearsal, and a brief one at that, a couple of hours before the ceremony. The wedding party is there early for photos, and it’s relatively easy to grab everyone for a few minutes to do a quick walk-through. Often the bride is not present, again because rehearsals are mostly for the attendants.

If you don’t have a rehearsal, or do have a day-of rehearsal, you can still have a dinner party with family and friends the day before – without the added stress of a rehearsal.


Of course, ideally the “where” for the rehearsal is the wedding ceremony site. Sometimes that is not possible, and a walk-through can take place at your dinner party location or even someone’s home. Just approximate the setting as much as possible.

If you don’t have the rehearsal at the wedding location, make sure that everyone in your wedding party knows how to get to the wedding site. Getting lost on the day of the wedding is not a good thing!


“Who” should be there would be everyone in the wedding party. Again, that’s not always possible. Someone can stand in the place of those absent for the rehearsal and that person(s) would get their directions later.

If your officiant has worked out the ceremony specifics beforehand with you, it might not be essential that he/she is there. Same is true with any wedding musicians you might have. And if it is not essential to have either, you can save yourself some money!

Experienced wedding officiates and musicians have done enough weddings that unless the ceremony is complex (and few are) they will do well without being at the rehearsal. However, if either have done few weddings, it could be more important for them to attend.

And leading up to the next question, if you have a good wedding planner and director, they will make sure that the ceremony and music are set to go as planned.

Note: Out of necessity there may be other people present including immediate family and family of your wedding party who are going to the rehearsal dinner. But don’t invite anyone to the rehearsal that you don’t really need. Fewer people there the better.

3. Should we have a wedding director?

In my experience, I would say in most cases yes. Even a smaller, more informal wedding at a home can benefit from having someone “in charge” and making sure everything goes smoothly.

If you want to do most of the wedding planning yourself, you could just hire someone to direct the rehearsal, ceremony, and perhaps reception. There are Day Of wedding directors, though some directors don’t like to jump in for day of only. You can sort of understand why – if the plans are in a state of chaos, it can be hard for even the best directors to fix them at the last minute.

If money is an issue, or you still just feel that your wedding is simple enough that you don’t need a hired wedding director, I still encourage all couples to have someone, if even only a family member or friend who can help you with your rehearsal and wedding day. I always say someone who is slightly bossy without being annoying!

However, a professional wedding planner will know a lot about weddings that your Aunt Susan probably doesn’t. And if you ever see a detailed wedding time-line done by a wedding pro, you would be impressed.

Note: You should not expect your wedding officiate to conduct the rehearsal. While they might be willing and capable, they have a job to do too and won’t be able to run the show the day of the wedding.

4. Do we need wedding rehearsal invitations?

You do need some kind of invitations – how fancy you get or how much you want to spend depends on you. I found online a free 61 page PDF that seems to have all anyone would ever want to know about the proper wording for wedding rehearsal invitations and other invitations for that matter. Download it here: Invite Right: Everything You Need to Know to Create Flawless Wedding Invitations, Announcements and More.

You might also want to send an email reminder, and even have someone call everyone with a reminder.

5. What is the proper attire for a wedding rehearsal?

I have no idea! So I asked a someone else to do a write up about it. Find it here.


1. Urge everyone to be on time!

Rehearsals notoriously start late, and the excuses for late-arrivals are generally the same.  You might be able to head off some of these problems in what you put in your wedding rehearsal invitation.

  • People get caught in rush hour traffic. So remind them to allow time for heavy traffic.
  • People get lost. So give them great directions.
  • Some people are just habitually late for everything! You know who you are! So tell them to arrive at the rehearsal 30 minutes before the start time. In fact, you might want to tell everyone to plan to do that.

Even if everyone is not there on time, try to start on time. Late-arrivals can catch up.

2. Have a plan for your wedding rehearsal.

That is, have a wedding rehearsal outline (see excel document example a little further below) with all the details for how you want the ceremony to go worked out before you get there. If you don’t, many dear friends and family members will have “helpful” suggestions for you.

The purpose of a rehearsal is to rehearse your wedding, not plan it. If you a have plan, then when someone suggests something you don’t like, you can politely answer that you already have the details decided.

Note: This doesn’t mean that you won’t get to the rehearsal and see something that you want to change. But if you leave the whole thing open-ended, you can find yourself in a mess. I got caught in-between a bride and her mother one day as they were disputing with each other where the attendants should stand. The mother asked me what I thought! Yikes!

Here are a few things you want to know before arriving for your rehearsal:

  • Does the venue have any restrictions? Examples: not placing tape on the floor for attendants to know where to stand and not allowing lit candles.
  • Where will the men enter from? (usually a side door). Where will the women enter from? (usually down the center aisle)
  • Who will hold the rings? Traditionally, the best man holds the bride’s ring, and the maid/matron of honor holds the groom’s. Other times the best man holds both since the maid of honor has flowers to hold. If there is a ring bearer, the rings on the pillow are usually fake.
  • Who will be responsible for making sure that the “supplies” needed for the wedding are brought? Examples: Unity Candle or Sand Ceremony supplies, ring pillow, guest book/table, boutonnieres, aisle runner, microphone/sound system, tissue for all those tears of joy!
  • The whole wedding ceremony outline from processional to recessional, including the what, the who and the when, along with notes. What in the world am I talking about? See the picture to the right? That’s a snapshot of an excel document that you can download and use to plan your ceremony from beginning to end. Get it here: Master Ceremony Outline Planner – Excel Worksheet.  If you don’t know excel, then you can do this on a Word document or even with pencil and paper. It’s just easier to make changes if you do it with excel.

3. Decide whether you want someone to take photographs at your rehearsal.

This is a small detail that many couples don’t think of, but the rehearsal is part of the wedding event. You don’t have to use your professional wedding photographer, but you could have someone assigned to make sure some pictures are taken.


When it’s time to start, call everyone together toward the front of the ceremony site, and let your wedding director introduce herself/himself, and perhaps the wedding officiant if present. If you have a wedding minister, you may want them to lead an opening prayer.

The following is a typical order that many good wedding directors take in conducting a wedding rehearsal:



Get everyone in the wedding party in place where they will be once they walk in for the ceremony at the point of just before the “presentation of the bride”.  The idea is to begin with end in view. See the example positioning in the chart here. Alter it as needed to suit your wedding.










Then take everyone out to their “starting places” and let them walk in and return to the place they were in step 1 above. This is what is called the wedding processional. I’ve put together a 5 minute video that shows a standard processional order. You may do things a bit differently, but this gives you a good overview:

And here’s a written outline of the processional order: (make any changes to suit your wedding party and preferences)

1st   Groom’s grandparents

2nd   Bride’s grandparents

3rd   Groom’s parents

4th   Bride’s mother

5th   Officiant, groom, best man, groomsmen (in that order)

6th   Bridesmaids

7th   Maid/Matron of honor

8th   Ring Bearer

9th   Flower Girl

10th Bride

Additional notes about the processional:

  • Sometimes groomsmen escort the bridesmaids in.
  • Sometimes the ring bearer and flower girl walk in together. This can make it easier for both of them since they aren’t going down that aisle alone! One smart wedding director gave the a ring bearer and flower girl a song to sing as they came down the aisle. “Step together, step together,” they sang as they marched to the altar!
  • If you are using an aisle runner, please make sure the persons rolling it out practice. It’s a lot harder than it looks. Often watching the aisle runner rolled out is the most “entertaining” part of the ceremony.
  • If there is a Unity Candle the moms usually light the taper candles when they are escorted in. If it is an outdoor wedding, they may come up during the ceremony at the time of the Unity Candle and light them then. If it is a Sand Ceremony, they carry in the groom and bride’s containers of sand and place them on the Sand Ceremony table.

Here are some things to take notice of at the rehearsal:

  • How fast do attendants walk in? Generally, a casual stroll in the park pace is good.
  • When everyone is lined up, does it look symmetrical? That is, do the groomsmen and bridesmaids look even the way they are standing?
  • As the bridesmaids are pretending to hold their flowers, are their hands about waist high? (You want to bring pretend flowers to the rehearsal).
  • How do you want the men to hold their hands? In front, crossed with right over left, or some other way?
  • Are attendants instructed to turn their bodies toward the action (that would be you)! People get lazy and just turn their heads. The whole body needs to turn to face towards the bride before she comes in and the couple as they stand before the officiant.
  • If you have ushers (often the groomsmen) for the wedding guests as they arrive, go over details with them – like what time to be at the door, how to escort, and which side to seat people on. By the way, except for parents/grandparents, many couples do not have a groom’s side and bride’s side, but guests are seated evenly on both sides.
  • If you have singers or readers, find out if they feel a need to rehearse at the venue. If so, they can do it right before or after your official rehearsal, rather than during it.



Here’s the basic positioning of the wedding party after the presentation of the bride.

Once everyone is in place, the wedding officiant may go over the ceremony with the couple in a very general fashion stepping them through the basic movements of turning, getting the rings, and other gestures of the ceremony.

The one thing that is often important to go over at the rehearsal is the “presentation of the bride.” Not all weddings have this part, but if you do, then it’s a good idea to go over with the bride’s escort, the bride and groom how the presentation is done.

A common approach is for the bride escorted by her father to come in and stop in front of the officiate. At the same time, the groom pivots over to stand beside the bride’s father. The three are squared up in front of the officiant.

Once the music stops, the officiant looks at the father of the bride, and says “Who gives this woman in marriage?” The father answers, “Her mother and I.” At that point, he may kiss his daughter on the cheek and turn and shake the groom’s hand.  He turns to go to his seat as guests are instructed by the officiant to be seated.

Here’s a video I did giving you a visual demonstration of the whole wedding ceremony from presentation of the bride to presentation of the couple:

Note: Fathers of the bride are prone to step on the bride’s dress as they go to their seat. They aren’t looking down but toward their seat, so it’s an easy thing to do. Remind dad not to do that! Or as an alternate approach, if the couple is moving up further after the presentation of the bride, the father can remain where he is until the bride’s dress clears the area, and then he can turn to go to his seat.

If the officiant isn’t present at the rehearsal, if the couple likes, the director can take the officiant’s ceremony outline and go through the steps with them. (Wedding director’s tell me that the officiants are present for rehearsals about 50% of the time, and it’s usually when it’s the family minister and he/she would be there whether really needed or not).

Regardless, the officiant will have gone over these details with the couple beforehand. I often tell couples that they could go through the whole ceremony at the rehearsal and they wouldn’t remember a thing the day of!

It’s the officiant’s job to tell the couple exactly what to do and when. Things like, “turn to face each other,” “take the ring,” “place the ring on her hand,” “repeat these vows,” and “kiss the bride.”

An experienced wedding minister will also “take care” of other things that many overlook.

Here’s three examples:

1. He/she will notice if the couple has gotten “off center” and move them over so they are centered for their pictures.

2. He/she will know what to do when the unexpected happens. What if a cell phone rings? What if a squirrel falls out of a tree onto to someones head! Anything can happen! You can’t ignore those things – it looks foolish. Usually, I make a little joke about unplanned things, and move on with the ceremony.

3. He/she will help make the couple at ease. Sometimes a nervous couple doesn’t know what to do with their hands and will just drop them to their sides. I will casually ask them to rejoin hands. It looks much better, and holding onto to their partner just relaxes them.



After any ceremony instructions, you then practice the wedding recessional (everyone going out). The couple of course is first, followed by everyone else in the reverse order that they came in.

The couple may want to pause just a few seconds after the “presentation of the couple” so the photographer can take a photo. Then when ready, they head down the aisle. Once they are all the way out, the other attendants can begin to pair up and exit. Usually once one pair is half way up the aisle, then next pair will start to exit.

Also decide whether the parents and grandparents will walk out by themselves or ushers will come back to get them. If it is the later, make sure the ushers don’t forget! Often they do. It’s usually quicker if the parents and grandparents can walk out by themselves – or in some cases they don’t exit at all since they are staying down front for some photos.

Either way, once the last of the wedding party is out, you need to know what happens next.

Receiving lines are very rare anymore. They just take too much time. If you have 50 guests and each one takes only a minute to congratulate you, that’s close to an hour that people are standing in line.

Often, couples prefer to go “hide” somewhere and let the wedding guests move onto the reception site. Then they may come back for a few more pictures with immediate family.

Another common choice is to have a faux send-off. The couple hides as before, all the guests are invited to front of the venue, and the couple comes out to a shower of bubbles as they climb into their limo. It does make for some nice photos.



If you feel the need, go through the processional and recessional a second time. You may feel the need to go through the whole thing, or just parts of it. While there may be  a minor detail to take care of, usually a second time through is all that is needed for everyone to feel comfortable about what they are supposed to do.



Finally, call everyone together to make any announcements. That is, remind everyone what time to arrive at the wedding and when they should be ready for photos. It might be a good idea to have all your reminders printed out to hand out. The wedding venue may also have some “rules” to pass along to everyone at this time.

In most cases, a rehearsal can be done in well less than an hour. With detailed preparation and a plan in place, not only will your rehearsal be shorter but more fun, and you can move on to the rehearsal dinner to celebrate with family and friends.

Author: Ralph Griggs, MTh.  –  Copyright protected and All Rights Reserved

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