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Does Your Church Need a Funeral Support Team?

Sooner or later, your church will be called upon to assist a grieving family in planning a funeral or memorial service. Perhaps that has already happened many times, but the role of coordinating those services has fallen on an overworked pastor or staff member. No matter the status of your church’s funeral support services, it may be time to stop and ask, “Does our church need a Funeral Support Team?”

Here are some questions to ask as you look at the future of your funeral support ministry:

  • Is our church just starting, with a small staff and solo pastor? -- If that’s the case, asking members of your congregation to serve on a volunteer Funeral Support Team allows church members an opportunity to be more involved. It can also take the task of assisting with funeral planning, funeral dinners and other funeral support functions off the church staff’s busy schedule.
  • Are you an established church with a large, active congregation and many on-going functions? -- Again, allowing church members to become more involved in the work of the church keeps them engaged and lessens the burden on staff. If your church prefers official functions to be directed by staff, it may be time to designate a staff member who will coordinate a group of volunteers to provide funeral support.
  • Have you been handling funeral requests on a case-by-case basis and would like to have a more consistent process?
  • Having a clear, compassionate response to people in need of funeral support will strengthen your ministry to your congregation and the community.

Building Your Funeral Support Team

Once you’ve made the decision to build a Funeral Support Team, it’s time to identify the primary duties involved. With that information, you can then create the positions on the team that need to be filled.

Here are some functions that church staff or volunteers may find themselves fulfilling when assisting a family in need of funeral support:

  • Providing initial spiritual support for family after a loss, making referrals to area funeral homes, arranging grief counseling.
  • Communicating the loss to the church family as appropriate.
  • Referring to the church calendar and communicating with church staff, pastor and family of the deceased regarding availability of church facility for funeral service.
  • Coordinating with funeral director for transportation of deceased and any floral tributes to the church and cemetery.
  • Planning the order of service with the family and determining whether requests by family fit within church guidelines.
  • Communicating with funeral officiant regarding order of service and the need for a funeral sermon or homily.
  • Communicating need for special music to worship minister and musicians and ensuring necessary sound equipment is available.
  • Working with the family to prepare and print funeral keepsakes. Can include purchasing necessary funeral program templates, printer supplies and paper stock to provide this service.
  • Planning for funeral dinner/reception if to be held on-site, including coordination of setup, food service and cleaning.
  • Communicating with building custodial staff the need for additional cleaning, turning on air conditioning or heating prior to service, snow removal on walks and parking lots and other practical functions.
  • Helping provide on-going spiritual support for family/friends of the deceased.

As you review this list, you may decide that there are already people in place, either on staff or as volunteers at your church, who could easily fulfill those roles. It may be as simple as formally recognizing those people as the Funeral Support Team and creating a formal plan for communication and coordination in the event of a funeral. This is also the time to write a standard church response to requests for funeral support.

If, on the other hand, you realize that one or two people have been filling all these roles, it may be time to announce the creation of a Funeral Support Team with one of them at the head and ask for volunteers to lessen the load.

Either way, two questions that normally arise when looking at how a church handles funeral support requests is how to standardize the costs for those services, and to what extent the church will be financially involved in those costs. Answering those questions normally requires meeting with the church administrative council or board of elders to learn whether a pastor’s fund or compassionate fund has been established for assisting with emergency needs.

Providing compassionate, practical support in the event of a death is an important way a church ministers to its congregation and perhaps also to the community it’s a part of. Taking the time to determine how that support can be formalized, and deciding whether or not it’s time to create a Funeral Support Team, can make your church’s funeral support ministry more effective, while lessening the burden on pastoral and administrative staff.