Serving the “Nones” Through Celebration of Life Services

Historically, a funeral has been a religiously driven event. Rather than mourning a loved one, deeply religious individuals often gather to celebrate and acknowledge that their loved one is in a better place. There are five major religions and tens of thousands of other religions on Earth, and each has a specific conception of the afterlife. However, a growing demographic in the United States is ready to upset these traditions.

An emerging segment of people, often referred to as “nones,” belong to a group of religiously unaffiliated Americans who are rising in numbers. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, “nones” make up 23% of U.S. adults. The demographics of this group vary widely in race, ethnicity, educational background, income or region. While the number of “nones” is higher in the millennial generation, Pew also noted that this number is increasing in every living generation.

Because of this trend, more and more families request non-religious services where the focus is on celebrating their loved one’s life rather than an afterlife in which they don’t necessarily believe. As the number of “nones” climbs, it’s vital for funeral homes to keep pace with changing consumer preferences. If a preneed or at-need family is looking to plan a service for their loved one, but consider themselves religiously unaffiliated, here are a few celebration-of-life ideas to keep in mind.

Try a New Location

“Nones” who don’t have a connection to a local religious institution may not like the idea of hosting a funeral in a church, temple or other common location. Even some funeral homes can feel too religiously oriented.

Try hosting a celebration of life service in a neutral location or at a place that is special to the person being memorialized. This location can be inside or outside and can happen in places like a beach, a park, a cabin or even on a boat. It all depends on the personality of the deceased or family looking to plan a funeral. Some funeral homes are taking a proactive approach by building event centers at their location to accommodate changing consumer preferences.

Rethink the Service

Funerals generally follow the same basic series of events. First is a visitation where family and friends can gather to pay their respects to the deceased and the mourning family. Next is the actual funeral service, which includes religious songs, passages, hymns, prayers and a eulogy. The third most common step is a committal service, or vehicle procession, from the location of the funeral to the burial site. And finally, some families host a post-funeral reception where everyone gathers to show support for the family.

Just like the “nones” don’t follow an organized religion, they probably won’t want to follow the classic template of a funeral service. Some families or individuals planning a funeral may want more of an open house feel than a service with a strict time schedule. A celebration of life service can still include any or all of the basic events above, but most likely will not include a funeral service in a religious context.

Creative Guest Books

A guest book isn’t necessarily tied to any specific religious belief, but there are several ways that you can get creative with this idea for a non-traditional crowd. Consider having guests write a memory on a slip of paper or notecard that the family can collect in a box or a jar to read later. Families can also ask guests to sign a scrapbook filled with pictures of their loved one, or they can sign a special poster that can be framed and hung in the family’s home.

A New Kind of Funeral

The word “funeral” is often tied very closely to religion, but the events that occur during a celebration of life service don’t have to be religious. Here are a few activities that can bring people together:

  • Ask guests to give a speech about the loved one’s life
  • Light a memory candle
  • Plant a tree in the name of the deceased
  • Release lanterns in the evening
  • Give guests packets of Forget Me Not seeds
  • Bury a memory capsule (and set a date to open it again)
  • Release paper boats with the deceased’s name or memories
  • Release (biodegradable) balloons


The Right Atmosphere

A funeral or memorial service can be viewed as a time for mourning for family and friends. However, a celebration of life service is just that, a celebration. The atmosphere takes on a slightly more upbeat, and even lighthearted, feeling. Families can choose to create a custom music playlist to set a specific mood for the duration of the event. Another common part of any service is to create a photo and video slideshow of the deceased.

It’s a good idea to prepare your firm for an increase in religiously unaffiliated and celebration of life services as the general population changes. Staying in the know about religious trends from all over the world can help funeral homes all over the country to stay connected to their client families.

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