Since the outbreak of the pandemic three years ago, churches across the country have been suspended, opened, and suspended again. Many ministries have been impacted negatively. Meanwhile, churches are also facing the problem of losing believers. However, the membership in a church in southern Fujian did not decrease but increased instead during the pandemic.
In addition to the church's timely online ministries at the beginning of the pandemic, the senior pastor of the church shared another surprising reason — evangelizing through funeral services.
Recently, the Gospel Times, a Chinese online Christian media, interviewed Pastor S, the senior pastor of the church about the process of the church’s exploration in funeral ministry.
Church Q has a history of more than 100 years. Tracing back to the reason why the church offers funeral services, the pastor indicated that this has been a fine tradition passed down through the generations.
"In our region, weddings and funerals are a top priority. Funerals, in particular, are much larger in scale than those elsewhere." Pastor S said, "Our church has been rooted here for hundreds of years. It is not surprising to place emphasis on the believers’ funeral services. That is how the tradition of funeral service has been preserved.”
Moreover, the pastor firmly believes that funeral service is a ministry that deserves special attention in the church in terms of demand. "More than 100 brothers and sisters in our church rest in peace every year. The number almost makes up a small church. Now the aging of the church members has become prevailing. It is the responsibility and mission of the church to provide hospice care for the elderly believers."
Because of the tradition and the demand, funeral services have “exceptionally” become as important as other ministries in Church Q. To this end, the church has two pastors in charge of funeral services to streamline "hospice care" and "funeral planning." Furthermore, all the pastors in the church participate in the funeral service. "At one busiest time, our church held five memorial services simultaneously in one night. The five pastors in the church were sent to five places respectively at the same time to deliver funeral sermons. At another time, there were two or three funeral services held concurrently in the same location. It was confusing for believers to know which one to attend,” recalled a young pastor in the church.
In terms of logistical planning, Church Q organizes five events from the beginning to the end of a funeral after taking into account the local funeral customs and the remains’ need for pastoral care. The entire process lasts three days and two nights. In the course of these three days, the church will hold separate services for visitation, procession, burial, and memorial. Each detailed service aims for the relatives to grieve, receive condolences and feel hopeful before God’s throne of grace. While the relatives grieve, they can be grateful for God’s provision and ponder on the meaning of life during the service.
Thanks to a good balance between tradition and faith, the church's funeral service has naturally gained the recognition and support of many believers. Pastor S stated, "Over the years, the brothers and sisters in the church have been devoted. Whenever there is a funeral, everyone volunteers spontaneously to assist and serve. They have been a great help and encouragement to the pastoral staff.” Many who had never been familiar with the faith were touched and intrigued by the funeral and started coming to the church.
With years of inheritance and development, the pastor now has more new insights into the funeral service. "Actually, in our case, the funeral service is the only opportunity for the church to evangelize to the outside world under the current conditions." Compared with the past, the opportunities for churches to integrate into society and provide services have become much smaller in his view due to the pandemic and many other reasons. Funeral services are a good opportunity, which is hard to come by, to reach non-believers. The family of the deceased is the group to which the church attaches great importance.
"Some bereaved relatives have not yet believed in the Lord, and it is usually difficult for them to have time to gather together. We have been exploring proper ways to relieve their emotional pain, and to touch their hearts and souls through the love of Christ," Pastor S said.
Hoping to make the gospel known to more people through funeral services, Pastor S believes that sharing the gospel does not necessarily come from the sermon messages or prayers in funeral services. Rather, funeral attendants would notice the positive and hopeful attitudes of Christians towards life and death through the life testimonies of the deceased or the church members who serve in the funeral. That is how the seed of the gospel is sowed.
"Both life and death are in fact a spiritual battle of faith. The church cannot and should not shy away from helping believers comprehend the meaning of life and death. It is a sound approach for the church to explore ways of delivering relevant messages and caring," Pastor S added.
- Translated by June I. Chen