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Forces of Change in the Funeral Profession: A Religious Shift

January 27, 2020

Feature image of Forces of Change in the Funeral Profession: A Religious Shift

By Josh McQueen, Vice President of Product 

In my last three articles, I’ve covered several major forces of change affecting the funeral profession today, including the technological revolution, a dispersed society, and trends in our society that are sheltering consumers from death for longer than previous generations. Probably the biggest, and in my opinion, least talked about force of change is our society’s move away from religion over the last two decades. In this blog post, we will discuss how this trend in religious status is affecting funeral service today and offer up a viable solution to cater to this growing group of secular consumers. 

Funeral Traditions and Religion 

At least since the birth of our country, funeral traditions have almost always been tied to religious practices and communities of faith that had a need to mourn during a time of loss. I’m sure we all can remember the days where a pastor, priest, or religious figurehead was present to lead every single funeral service. Now it appears they’re needed far less frequently, because religious traditions aren’t on display during every ceremony. Additionally, the need for a funeral procession may not be wanted at all, and instead a more laid-back “celebration” is desired. 

The Rise of Cremations 

For decades, our profession has been concerned about the increase of cremation. If you’re wondering why cremation is rising, I would argue that you should look no further than the secularization of our society. Over the past twenty years, the United States has seen a 20% decrease in attendance across churches, mosques, and synagogues. This almost directly correlates with the increase in cremation at the same time. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Vatican even allowed for the spreading of ashes. 

A Surprising Constant 

Interestingly, though, America’s belief in “God” has remained relatively constant over the last 100 years at about 80%. We’re beginning to hear people describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” Many claim the religion they grew up with only for cultural purposes but do not necessarily hold to all of the values or traditions prescribed by that religion. It used to be that a family walked through your doors and told you they were Catholic, Jewish, Baptist or anything else, and you immediately knew what kind of service you would be conducting. Today, while families might tell you they are Catholic, you’ll find that they often do not want the traditional Catholic service and instead only want to use a couple of the rituals in their unique tribute. 

The Struggle Lies Within Us 

If you are trying to place the blame for our profession’s current struggles on cremation, think again. The struggle that our profession is facing is largely due to our inability to explain the value of a funeral outside of a religious tradition that supports it. Think about it. Funerals have inherent value for people from ALL walks of life, not only those who call themselves “religious.” We in the funeral profession need to learn how to talk about the value of a funeral service from the standpoint of a healing experience rather than a traditional ceremony. 

An Updated Strategy 

It should be no surprise that changing societal factors are also causing a change in the funeral consumer. It would be detrimental to our profession if we didn’t adjust our strategy to include these less religious families. To tackle this problem, ask yourself, am I explaining the value of a funeral service to everyone I meet? Am I reaching out to non-religious families? Can I offer grief help with both a religious and non-religious angle? The fact of the matter is these consumers are changing, and we need to evaluate ourselves to determine if we are accommodating their needs. If you’re still unsure how to reach this specific demographic, we would love to help you. 


This is only an excerpt of our “New Funeral Consumer” booklet. For more information about the changing funeral consumer and how to better meet their needs, check out our free Passare eBook.