Religion has played a large part in shaping our modern funeral traditions. But what happens when you take religion out of the funeral?
An increasing number of Americans don’t identify with organized religion. Their beliefs and attitudes are steering funeral ceremonies in a new direction.
The Rise of Secularism
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Christianity is still the most prevalent religion in the United States. In a Religious Landscape Study conducted by the Pew Research Center, America is 70% Christian. But that percentage is falling. In 2007, the number of people who identified as Christian was about 80%.
Also in 2007, the number of people who were unaffiliated with organized religion, atheist, or agnostic was only 16% — but when the survey was conducted again in 2014, that number rose to 22.8%.
The Pew Research Center actually lists “nones,” or those without any specific adherence to a religion, as the second-largest group behind evangelical Protestantism. The study also found that for every person who converts to Christianity in their adult life, four people will leave religion to become “nones.”
Christianity has been the dominant religion in America since our country’s founding, but by 2050 the number of Americans who identify as Christian is expected to decline to its lowest level — down to about two-thirds of the population.
What does this shifting religious landscape mean for funeral homes?
How to Broaden Your Reach
A changing population means funeral homes will have to change how they reach out to families in the community. If your main approach is to advertise with the community church, you are losing out on opportunities to reach the whole community.
So how can you reach out to the non-religious or secular families in your community?
- Go beyond the church. Partner with hospice care, nursing homes, and adult resource centers. Take the initiative in letting families know the types of services you offer.
- Raise awareness. Set up seminars, meet and greets, or Q&As to open up the conversation. Remember that no religion doesn’t have to mean no rituals. It’s easy to slip into the mindset that a non-religious family might just want a quick cremation and that’s it. But a ceremony is every bit as important to non-religious families.
- Use a hyper-local social media strategy. Most businesses shy away from social media, but it’s a powerful tool when trying to connect with families in your local community. A hyper-local approach simply means your social media channels are targeted toward building personal relationships in your community. In other words, it makes you seem like more than just a business — you become part of the community.
So we know how to reach secular families, but what about the actual service?
Secular Funerals and New Rituals
We have rituals for a reason. They’re effective at bringing order and understanding to something as incomprehensible as death. No matter what your faith is, rituals are an important part of any ceremony.
If a family approaches your funeral home and doesn’t want a religious ceremony, work with them to create new rituals — original and meaningful ways to celebrate the life of their loved one. You can even organize the structure of the service similar to a religious ceremony. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Have families share stories about the deceased as part of the eulogy.
- Center the ceremony around the hobbies and interests of the deceased, such as showcasing a map of their travels, or incorporating their favorite sports team.
- Partner with a funeral celebrant, or consider taking steps to get you or someone in your funeral home certified.
The new rituals you create are as endless as your imagination. Here is a list of 40 more ideas to help with some unique memorialization for your funerals.
As the rise of alternative religions and secularism grows in America, it’s important to make sure your funeral home has the ability to reach out and provide services for everyone in your community.