1. Meet with the Family.
2. Distill to one best trait/quality.
While one of the great reasons for meeting with the family is to provide a place of cathartic healing for them, the primary reason is to be able to perform a funeral/memorial service that will accurately honor their loved one in an excellent way. One of the best ways to do this is to hear through the various stories/jokes/fond recollections a common thread that is core to who this person was. This needs to be what you are secretly listening for during the entire meeting, and you should only feel free to move on to the actual service planning once you have detected that unmistakeable note.
The rest of the service planning then needs to revolve around this truth. Three points about death and a sappy poem, do not a good funeral make! Resist the urge to cookie-cutter your way through this (which is easy to do once you have a few under your belt, and the family probably won’t notice…but that’s the point – they won’t notice!! This service should crystallize their thinking of their loved one and give them a clarion call of how to be a better person throughout the rest of their life. They should notice.) with a couple of go-to texts and a song of Amazing Grace.
In ministry, your words will roll off of people far more frequently than they will penetrate to the heart. Funerals are a teachable moment, when their resistance to things spiritual is at an all-time low. Don’t screw it up! Let me repeat, don’t screw it up!!
“When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.” Too often pastors perform bland services that are more routine than challenging, more aimed at not stirring the pot than changing lives. Many of the people you get to minister to in these times haven’t darkened a church door in years. The pupil is ready, make sure you show up.
Invariably, this best trait is what was most like Christ about the person. Tie the scarlet thread of salvation to them through this poignant truth, and you are over half way there (yeah, I know there are 8 more points to come, but you really are over half way there). When preaching the service, this one trait will give you an honest bridge to talk about the things of God in a way that you will be heard.