Decorating a church service is a careful, respectful process. Before doing anything, you should contact the local Altar Guild to check on specific requirements. Arrangements for the altar require a reservation. There may be height and width restrictions. There may be special, water-proof coverings required. There may be special restrictions on how and where you can place floral decoration. You may not be allowed to hang arrangements on the edges of pews or in windows. There will almost surely be restrictions against using nails or glue to affix items to the structures in the sanctuary! Don’t assume anything.
Most churches frown on the use of artificial material. There are practical reasons Christmas wreaths and garlands must be artificial, since they will be on display from late November to early December, but even when artificial greenery is allowed in certain areas, it may not be in all. Many churches do not allow artificial, taped music, much less silk flowers. Typically, anything beyond the altar rail must be live of dried, real plant material—no plastic!
Lighting and candles can get tricky, too. Most altar guild members have stories to tell about damaged caused by candle wax or flames. The simple act of blowing out a candle can cause molten wax to spew across priceless furniture and expensive fabric. If you plan on using candles or electrical receptacles, check first with the altar guild, and be prepared to explain how you will protect items nearby.
Once safety and protocol are out of the way, you can begin planning a design. Visit the venue and take pictures if you are allowed. A church design should be understated, for the most part. The focal point is the altar and its religious significance. Pokémon Go characters or Goth swords may be appropriate for a reception area, but not inside a church. Theme your design with inspiration from nature and the local character of the community. Church holidays, weddings, and funerals are part of everyday life, not fantasy. Ostentatious displays of expensive, exotic plant material takes away from the solemnness of the services and ceremonies. Your design should provide beauty without show-boating or being too-cute or low-brow.
Look at the walls. If they are white or cream-colored, dark accents will provide a strong contrast. If they are dark wood, the same dark flowers may get absorbed into the background. Look at the carpet and upholstery. If it is scarlet red, you may want to re-think a peach color scheme. Look at the windows. If they are stained-glass, your hanging baskets or wreaths may clash. Visiting the site will help direct your design decisions.
The scale of large churches can be surprising. Test out the scale and size of the arrangements you plan to display, using cardboard props of similar size. The church may restrict your arrangements to their specific vessels. Floral arrangements are often almost four feet tall and wide. Chances are you will need to move to larger-sized containers and planters to meet the grand scale of a sanctuary space.
Find out how the removal of arrangements is handled. There may be time restrictions for removal, or the church may ask you to keep the decorations through the next service. Some churches break down large, donated arrangements into smaller containers to deliver to local shut-ins or nursing homes. Keep water off of floors and furniture when handling or moving vases. Professional florists may ask you return their containers. If you are using borrowed or the church’s containers or container liners, be sure to return them in good shape and in a timely manner.
Churches are meant to stand for centuries as a refuge and sanctuary from the turbulent world. Reverently respect the sacred space when preparing decorations for special ceremonies. There will be hundreds more events after yours, as there were hundreds more before. Quietly and carefully, you can enhance the space by bringing in natural, live elements for each special event.