12 Do’s and Don’ts When You Preach a Funeral

I went to social media to listen to pastors. It is always rewarding and instructing to hear from these church leaders.

My question was simple: What are some do’s and don’ts for preaching funerals? Several hundred pastors responded. I have attempted to rank the responses in order of frequency. Here are the top twelve.

1. DO preach the gospel. This response was an overwhelming number one. Pastors view a funeral as a unique time to talk about eternal matters. Many of the pastors had recommendations on how to preach the gospel in this setting.

2. DON’T have an open microphone. I did not expect this issue to be so pervasive, but it was a clear second recommendation. One pastor told the story of having to pull someone away from the microphone. The speaker was both inebriated and incoherent.

3. DO talk with the family before the funeral. The pastors emphasized how important it is to get to know the deceased through the words of his or her family.

4. DON’T make the funeral about yourself. A number of pastors expressed frustration when other pastors use themselves as the focal points of illustrations or as best friends with the deceased.

5. DO mention the deceased by name on several occasions. The pastors reminded us how much the family appreciates hearing the name of their loved ones. It is both assuring and comforting.

6. DON’T mispronounce the deceased’s name. It only takes a few minutes to confirm with family members exactly how his or her name is pronounced.

7. DO keep the message brief. Most of the recommendations were in the range of ten to twenty minutes. One pastor reminded us that a funeral is not the place to try your latest sermon.

8. DON’T preach the deceased into heaven. Many pastors admit they are often unsure about the deceased’s relationship with Christ. They emphasize that pastors should not attempt to frame the sermon as if the person was a Christian if they are unsure.

9. DO show up early for the funeral. Showing up late can be a sign of disrespect for the deceased and the family. Show up early, the pastors encouraged, and spend time with the family.

10. DON’T assume the funeral details are perfectly planned. Check with both the family and the funeral director about the order of the service and the specific requests of the family.

11. DO make personal comments and share anecdotes about the deceased. Again, it is best to get these from the family. Honor the deceased and comfort and respect the family.

12. DON’T read the obituary. Many of them are long. Most of them are boring. Incorporate key points about the deceased into your funeral message.

I am appreciative of the hundreds of pastors who shared these points and many others. I would love to hear from you about some additional insights.

Posted on January 31, 2022

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Jim Giffin says on

    I have been in ministry for 30 years. For the last 8 years I have worked for a funeral home. We rely on the minister to give us an order of service. We supply them with the songs that are being used so they can do that. Most, however, leave it up to us to put it together last minute. Also, I realize this is just a list that ministers have come up with, but when it all boils down it is up to the family on how the service will be conducted, ie. open mic, obituary, and so on. Just a funeral home employees view on this.

  • Notes of funeral sermons: This is good reminder. In my culture it is true that a pastor should be very early to be with the deceased family. Secondly, it is important to preach more on eternal life. Good points.

  • I agree with most of what you said. It is important to show up early. I remember I was running late for a funeral once, and I got a phone call to make sure I was still coming. I got there in plenty of time for the service, but I still learned a valuable lesson: the family usually feels better if you arrive at least a half-hour early! I also heartily agree with you about preaching the Gospel.

    I’ve found that families generally like me to read the obituary, though I agree that they can be lengthy. In such cases, I generally read the basic info at the beginning of the service, and then (as you suggested) incorporate the finer details into my sermon. I agree with you in principle about the open mic, but what if the family insists on it? Personally, I just grin and bear it, but if anyone has other suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.

  • I agree with most of the points above, though not necessarily in the order given. I’ve found funerals are very special occasions, but one needs to be very careful not to allow the service to become an event. While I am accommodating, as far as possible, I consider a funeral a very dignified service, and so choose to manage the service order fairly strictly. I’ve had a few occasions when I’ve had to ask someone to finish with the tribute or obituary due to time constraints. I’ve also found that far more frequently, families use a funeral to deal with fractured relationships, to appease a conscience. Then, some families would make requests for specific forms of tribute and I am generally amenable to them, but not to detract from the dignity of the service. I most certainly use the opportunity to preach the Gospel, for the very reasons given in the post.

    I have found humour during the service to add value to the memory of the deceased. I find funerals incredibly important to reconnect people with the church and not to pass judgment on the life of the deceased or to pretend that all was well, when everyone knows the reality. Meeting with the family a few days before the funeral helps me to guide them through the grieving process but it also establishes a bond for continued pastoral support after the funeral. There have been a number of persons who had found their way back to church, and to the Lord, because of the pastoral care and support that is offered before, and especially after, the funeral.

    I have had a few occasions when it was necessary to restrict certain activities. For example, at the committal I was asked to wait a while. Then music (very inappropriate) suddenly started blaring from a car stereo system. I was furious, but had to instruct the family member to switch it off, which she did. It allowed me afterwards to have a meaningful conversation with her explaining my decision. And that incident helped me to build a good relationship with her which remained until I left the congregation, and we continue to connect on social media.

  • Open mics are challenging. I have found on some occasions that the family is fairly insistent on wanting an open mic though I have tried to caution them about potential dangers. The open mics that have taken place at a funeral I have officiated have gone fairly well. Only one time was there a problem with someone who got up to speak, spoke for about 15 minutes about the deceased and the family of the deceased wasn’t even sure who this person was. So open mics can be tricky to navigate. However, I also ask the family if they will allow me to set the ‘rules’ for the open mic if they are insistent upon. Clear instructions are then given prior to the mic becoming available for those who want to share.

    On another note, when I am preaching at a funeral for someone who is saved then I ask to use the Bible of the deceased to preach from when I give the message. I learned that from my senior pastor when I was a youth pastor and have found that adds a more personal touch when delivering the funeral sermon.

  • Great list. #1 is so critical. On the rare occasions I am not officiating at the funeral, it always grieves me when I hear a lot about the person, but little about Jesus.

    #2 – agree wholeheartedly. I allow it when the family really wants it, and have been blessed by most times, but NOT all! I discourage it as much as possible and encourage people to share at the meal which follows.

    We periodically make a booklet available to our people for them to plan their memorial services. So often families just look with a blank stare when I ask about favorite songs or scriptures. Some of my most blessed funerals are when the deceased gave some thought of what they wanted included.

    One other thought, I encourage family to write out what they plan to say. In the emotions of the moment many can’t figure out how to “land the plane” without that – and, on occasion, I have stepped in to read what they wrote when they become overwhelmed by emotion.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good advice, Bill.

    • Weston Mwape says on

      Very important point raised on asking family members write down what they intend to say at the memorial. Provides the opportunity to get their deepest emotions and to ensure that the message is doctrinally correct and consistent with the Gospel of salvation

  • I’ve had a few families try to give me lot of biography to share about their loved one, to which I have open conversation that “they” will have time to share… and I will be sharing “the promise” — the Good News — that God offers to ALL people who believe in Jesus. Yes, I’ll share some, but keep it connected with the Good News! I do have and will continue to have “an open mic” — nearly always in the bulletin (which I always put together whether at the church, funeral home or grave side): “AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SHARING . . . REFLECTION . . . AND PRAYER” . I include the 23rd Psalm to be read responsively, and bold other parts for participation, including the PRINTED Lord’s Prayer. I do “pre-plan” for it — visiting with family and friends and have been “pre-warned” a couple of times about this one or that one… Perhaps I’m just very blessed to have never had an unmanageable situation. AND in nearly all funerals I glean most appropriate info / insights during that time, which I quite often incorporate into my brief message time.

    One time the 2 grandchildren were in front pew for their grandma’s service. She was the ONE who always brought them to church. She would bring them up for the children’s’ time. She was a teacher…. and I invited them to come forward at the message time and stand by the baptismal font. The “sharing time” had lifted up her gifts as a teacher… and what a wonderful time to “listen” to her grandchildren by the baptismal font speak of grandma’s many “teaching” times with them. Essentially the entire “message” time was transformed into time with the 2 grandchildren… and the rest “listening” in. I had not “planned” for that… but it became apparent during the time of sharing that this was a wonderful opportunity to allow them one last time to be up front “with” grandma….

    Another time at a funeral home — packed with young people after the death of a friend who OD’d… the “open mic” time provide an incredible time for many to share… in ways that just seemed to open up into what was apparently perceived as a safe place speak openly…. and culminated in a time of profound prayer for many gather there — hurting for their loss…. longing for forgiveness… not what I had “planned” for…

    Yet, one last reflection of a most profound “discovery” just prior to AND during the funeral — a member had had a “secret” life — unknown to ANY other members of the congregation, NOR myself! He had been married previously and fathered 3 children…. before leaving and entering another 40+ year marriage with 1 son. It was a most perplexing thing to discover this as his “previous family” showed up! I had a very few brief minutes to visit privately with his “first” wife — she was extremely forgiving and desired no part of the “open mic”. HOWEVER, the children — ALL the children — expressed desire to share AND they DID shared appropriately… I was approached later by the “first family” and the “2nd family’s son” for allowing them to ALL to share in “Dad’s” service… and out of it came a profound profession by them of “connecting” not only as children with the same earthly father, BUT as children of the same Heavenly Father! God was glorified! I’ll admit to being most concerned as I began the service… but by the Grace of God through the Holy Spirit’s profound presence, especially through ALL the children, was God glorified and the door flung wide opened that day during and after the service to the asking for forgiveness and the receiving of forgiveness! It was indeed a Celebration of life lived IN Jesus the Christ!

    Sooooo, while I understand your “no open mic” — the possible outcomes — I give God the praise and glory that He has used it to both draw people to himelf through Jesus and as a time to glorify Himself in many of the services I’ve been blessed to be a part of.

    Thanks for all very good — spot-on — points to keep in mind, especially as many of us are continuing to be challenged with Covid cultural / political issues the past couple of years!

  • Interesting observations, Thom. Thank you. I’ve led nearly 1,200 funerals (mostly for the unchurched), and I would have answered differently than most pastors did. (I am not saying that I am right and they are wrong. We are just different. Ministry here in the Pacific Northwest is VERY different!) I am wondering if there would be any value in asking the same question to funeral directors and the families who were led by those who preached funerals. (This topic is at the heart of my doctoral dissertation that I will be completing, Lord willing, within the next month.)

  • William A. Secrest says on

    All great points. I do read the obituary but I avoid reading all the family member’s names. I figure they already know who they are and don’t need me to remind them. I always meet with a family ahead of time to ask for stories and any favorite scripture of the deceased. Most of the time, the family is not aware of a favorite scripture and leaves it up to me. I usually have an open mic but I ask the family way ahead of time. I had a veteran pass away and his daughter made it clear that I had to limit the time of everyone who came to the microphone. She told me that because we had another local veteran who was known for taking over services and speaking way too long. He was at the service that day. He spoke for a long time but it was shorter than most of us were used to. I always have an outline of the service because the funeral director and I both need to be on the same page. Again, all great points. Too bad that you did not ask for humorous stories about funerals because I could write forever.

  • I have families who want the obituary read, and I will not deny that request. Also, I have families who want an open mic. I discuss the possible concerns and ways to handle situations that may arise. Again, I will not deny the family request for an open mic. So, I am curious how, pastors who say no to to the reading of the obituary and to the open mic, handle those requests made by the family. Great points to always consider.

  • 10. DON’T assume the funeral details are perfectly planned. Check with both the family and the funeral director about the order of the service and the specific requests of the family.

    Good point and an overall good list! Most families have never planned a service before and in addition to all the other details that go into a funeral, assuming the family has everything planned can cause a lot of confusion.

    I usually schedule a meeting with the family a day or two before the service and take a couple of customizable funeral service templates along. Each service is unique and personable, but a general order of service can be used.

    After we meet and plan the service, I print a copy of the order of service and give to the funeral director and others who are involved (musicians, etc.). Most often, that meeting to organize/plan the service is also a great opportunity to minister and serve the family.

    I have a couple of those funeral order of service templates here: https://www.drakecaudill.com/blogs/funeral-service-101

  • goooooooooooooooooooooood

1 2