Planning a Memorial Service

Planning a funeral is an emotional experience. Here’s a sample order to help you get your thoughts together.

Private prayer with family. Leave time before the service to meet privately as a family. Have a pastor or leader pray for strength and comfort during the service and in the months ahead.

Public opening words and prayer. Have the pastor or leader open the service with some words to frame the event, thanking people for coming and reminding everyone of the hope we have through Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Song, poem or Scripture reading. This is a good place for a congregational song of worship, performance piece, or reading. Make sure the message of the song, poem or scripture fits the theme of hope and encouragement.

Sharing memories. Invite a few friends or family members to share a memory of the loved one you’ve lost. It’s usually better to extend a handful of invitations to people you trust, rather than using an “open mic” approach. Encourage those who will share to prepare their thoughts ahead of time and respect your time frame.

Memorial video. If you have a memorial video for the service, this is a good time to show it.

Pastoral thoughts and closing prayer. The pastor or officiant can close with a few more words of encouragement and hope, along with some scriptures (see below). Close in prayer and offer instructions for a graveside service and/or a reception as appropriate.

2 Corinthians 4:18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

John 11:25-26 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Related Topic: When You Lose a Loved One]

[Related Series: Understanding Death and Grieving]

[Related Topic: 5 Things to Do When a Loved One Dies]

Grief Support

When a family in your church or community experiences a tragic loss, consider creating a grief support team to help them cope. The grief support team can include these key roles:

Meal coordinator: This is the point person for coordinating meals for the family. Having a coordinator centralizes the church’s efforts to bless the family with meals without stressing them out with the details. The meal coordinator can keep a care calendar and communicate the family’s preferences to those who are bringing meals.

Service planner: Planning for a memorial is time-consuming and emotional. We recommend designating a “planner” from among your friends or family – someone who is willing to take the lead and make some phone calls. Your planner can follow up on the information below.

Care team: These are hand-selected mentors or friends who are committed to reaching out weekly to the family for individualized care. Try assigning a unique “big brother or sister” to kids in the family who are experiencing grief, giving everyone special care and taking pressure off of parents to help their kids grieve a loss. Sensitize your prayer team by going through the Death and Grieving series together.