I am often being asked by brides whether or not they should have a receiving line at their wedding. It's one of those wedding traditions that you'll either love or hate, and I have to say that only about 25% of the weddings that I have worked on have had one.
If you are having a large number of guests and your wedding is quite formal, it can be a good idea. Its original purpose was to allow the hostess (usually the mother of the bride) to welcome guests into the reception.
Three interesting facts about receiving lines:
1) Traditionally, no men stand in the receiving line, except for the groom. The father of the bride usually stands nearby and introduces guests to one another and generally makes people feel at ease.
2) The receiving line is traditionally never held at the church, but always at the reception venue.
3) The most traditional and formal receiving lines comprise the mother of the bride, the mother of the groom, the bride, the groom, the maid of honour, the bridesmaids.
If you do decide to have one, try to allow about half an hour for all your guests to go through it. This will obviously depend on the number of guests and how much they chatter, but this is a general rule of thumb.
If your wedding is small and informal, you may not feel the need for a formal line. If you decide against it, you could still welcome your guests by going round each table at some point during the wedding breakfast to say hello.
Photo credits: http://www.mikaelamorgan.co.uk/