My pastor sometimes asks me to help him lead worship during a funerals that he conducts, and he typically requests me to sing these three hymns (which would be interspersed between his message):
- Amazing Grace
- Blessed Assurance
- What a Friend We Have in Jesus
These songs are fairly well-known, so I have never encountered an audience that has struggled with these songs.
A few other hymns/songs that I would add to this list (that is hymns/songs that are pretty well-recognised, and which the audience are unlikely to have difficulty singing) include:
- Because He Lives
- Great is Thy Faithfulness
- Abide with me
For novice guitar players, I need to warn you about ‘Blessed Assurance’. Most of the contemporary songs that we sing are played at 4/4 time, and ‘Blessed Assurance’ is traditionally played at 3/4 time. Hence, if you would like to play ‘Blessed Assurance’, you will need to know how to strum at 3/4 (waltz) timing. I learned this the hard way myself the first time I played the song at a funeral service. My pastor sang at the timing that he was familiar with (3/4), which made him seem as if he was singing ahead of me. As you can imagine, that was a rather embarassing experience, and the impromptu ‘solution’ that day was, of course, for me to stop strumming and to lead the rest of the song acapella.
The same actually goes with ‘Amazing Grace’. Traditionally, ‘Amazing Grace’ is played at 3/4 timing, but thanks to modern versions of the song which are played at 4/4 timing, I was able to pull off during the first funeral service that I led. However, these days, I play the song at 3/4 timing.
Incidentally, my pastor pastors the English speaking congregation, but sometimes, when he realises that there are a lot of non-English speaking people in the audience, he would add the Hokkien song ‘Hold My Hands’ (牵我的手).
In case you are not familiar, ‘Hold My Hands’ was written by Pastor Lim Ghee Tiong (a pastor from Sarawak), and a Youtube video of the song can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIUEnY8udKA
Now, if you find the above hymns to be too dated, and wish for something more contemporary, I can recommend the following songs:
- In Christ Alone (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENtL_li4GbE)
- On Eagle’s Wings (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEdtw63reio)
- 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtwIT8JjddM)
The reason I recommend ‘In Christ Alone’, is that there is a particular verse in that song that deals with death, and which goes like this:
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
Similarly, for 10,000 Reasons, the last verse concerns death, and it goes like this:
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
Hope that helps.