There is no doubt that Thanksgiving is an American, secular holiday. The occasion commemorates the arrival of Europeans to the continent and the traditional meal early Americans held to mark the event. However, Thanksgiving is also a holiday with themes that align with the Christian religion. It is an annual occasion during which people spend time with their families, and it is an opportunity to remember the very important values of gratitude and appreciation for what you have. For that reason, despite it being a non-religious holiday, Thanksgiving is actually an excellent time to have a special service at your church. A Thanksgiving Service can be a good chance to share lessons about the values at the center of the holiday and to gather congregants and their family members while they have time away from school and work.
If you are a congregation leader and you are considering leading a Thanksgiving Service this November, you may feel like you want some guidance on how to connect the holiday to the liturgy and the tenants of Christianity. You may also want some special activities you can do at your church to make your Thanksgiving service feel even more festive. Read on for some helpful tips for planning a Thanksgiving service, as well as some ideas for making the holiday more meaningful for everyone who gets to experience it.
The Logistics: When to Have a Thanksgiving Service at Your Church
Thanksgiving is a holiday that features a meal on a specific Thursday in November. However, if you have a Thanksgiving service at your church, you may be wondering: when is the best time to have it? You don't want to interrupt people's meals, but you also want to make sure it's during a time that people have off of work and school so they can attend. You also want to make sure the message is timely and relevant to the occasion that's happening.
To plan the service, consider taking a poll or survey of congregants a month or two in advance to find the best time on Thursday that works for them. Or, pick a time for the service and announce it far in advance. That way, your congregants can plan around the scheduled service and they can make both their festive family meals and the special service at their church.
The Publicity: Spread the Word About the Service
There's a good chance your Thanksgiving service is going to be at a time you don't usually have a service. Because of that, you need to get the word out about the event, so you make sure that everyone knows about it and attends. Print flyers and hand them out at regular Sunday services, or place them on community bulletin boards. Also, update any and all social media and online presence you have with the date and time of your Thanksgiving Service. You want to make a special effort to market the service so that you ensure people are aware of it. Consider drawing attention to the special focus of the event by theming the materials: consider incorporating some fall colors or autumnal images so people will know that the service will be focused on Thanksgiving.
Ask for Help: Get Volunteers
Because the Thanksgiving Service will be on a different schedule than normal, you may need help from congregants who want to volunteer for the service. They can lead prayers, give readings, hand out literature, usher, sing, and more. Even if you do not need the extra help, a Thanksgiving service may be an opportunity to get congregants involved who do not usually participate in the service. Ask well in advance for helpers who can contribute to the holiday service so that they can prepare to be at the service and get ready to perform whatever task has been assigned to them.
Prep the Service: Choose the Content
The meat of the Thanksgiving service is that actually the content that is heard, sung, or spoke there. Take at least a week in advance to plan out the content of the service, including what prayers will be read, what sermon will be delivered (and who will be delivering it), what songs will be sung, and what other special events will take place during the ceremony. Here is some guidance for choosing the content of your Thanksgiving service.
Focus on Prayers of Thanks
As its name suggests, the focus of Thanksgiving is thankfulness and gratitude. Hone in on prayers that offer thanks and help to heighten this message. You can write your own prayers thanking God for his goodness and work, or you can plan to let congregants offer their own silent prayers of thanks. There are also several well-known prayers that focus on an appropriate Thanksgiving message. You can find a selection of these prayers at the following links:
- A Christian Prayer of Gratitude
- Thanksgiving Prayer: Giving Thanks to the Lord, with a Grateful Heart
- 15 Thanksgiving Prayer Ideas to Say Around the Table This Year
- 7 Prayers to Say “Thank You” to God Today
Write a Sermon
The sermon may be the heart of a Thanksgiving service. Start preparing it well in advance so you end up with a talk to deliver that hammers home the message you want congregants to hear. If you want to choose a Bible verse or story to focus your sermon on, one popular topic for Thanksgiving is Luke's Story of the 10 Lepers. In the story, 10 lepers are healed but only one says Thank You (and it is a Samaritan). This story is about the nature of gratitude and how to acknowledge it. Also, consider getting personal in the sermon and telling stories from your own life about where you feel gratitude and what you feel appreciative for. By modeling giving thanks for congregants, you can show and explain to them what it means to express gratitude and how it can elevate both their lives and the lives of the people they are thanking. Tips for sermon writing during Thanksgiving time: if possible, write the sermon as early as you can, then practice it multiple days before the holiday. That way you can sit back and relax during your Thanksgiving meal with your own family, and you won't have to stress or worry about rehearsing your words when you should also be appreciating a holiday meal at home.
Get People Involved: Consider Additional Activities
One way that a Thanksgiving service might differ from a traditional church service is that you may want to incorporate activities into the service. Doing more active things during a Thanksgiving Service will help get more people excited and involved in the event. It is also a good way to give to people who are in need, and Thanksgiving can be a particularly hard time for those people who don't have families or means to celebrate with. Once the typical service part of your Thanksgiving service is over, consider holding the following activities:
- Host a meal for the less fortunate at your church, and have congregants cook and serve the meal
- Have a canned food or dry good drive associated with the service. Have people bring at least one canned good or food item when they attend. Collect the items and donate them to a local food pantry.
- Assemble gift bags for the less fortunate with warm weather goodies and toiletries in them. These will come in handy in the upcoming cold winter months or serve as little gift bags during the festive gift-giving time of the holidays.
- Allow people to give their words of thanks out loud to the whole congregation, or break up into smaller groups and have people share what they are thankful for. Let the whole community hear what each person has gratitude for.
- Look for other community events that are helping to serve the less fortunate, than coordinate travel and attendance as a group and take all of the attendees over to participate.
- Read from a non-religious book about gratitude. Find a novel, children's book, or essay that speaks to the theme of being thankful. Share all of it or some of it aloud. Help elucidate the message with texts or stories that really resonate with listeners today (and listeners of all ages)
- Offer fellowship before and after the service. This is a time for gathering, socializing and expressing love. Also, it is a time when many people fly in town to see their loved ones, so there is a good chance that people who are not usually there will be in attendance. Allow for the church to be a space for this sharing and let people spend time together before and after the Thanksgiving service. To encourage people to stick around, offer small sweets or post-Turkey desserts after the service, so people can snack while they catch up.
Space: Make Space feel Holiday Festive
No need to go overboard at your church for Thanksgiving, but you can help your church feel like a place that people want to be and stay on the holiday by incorporating little decorative touches to remind them of the season. For Thanksgiving, consider using some autumnal or themed decor like mums, pumpkins, straw, and cornucopias on tables. Make the entire place feel like a spot for them to celebrate the occasion of Thanksgiving, not just in the sanctuary or chapel when the prayers are being said or sermons are being delivered.
Going Forward: Encouragement for the Future
One of the most important messages for the Thanksgiving service attendees to leave with is that gratitude matters not just on the holiday, but every day of the year. Cite bible verses focused on gratitude. Then give people ways to help incorporate more giving of thanks into their daily routine. You may encourage people to start a gratitude journal so they become aware of all the things they are thankful for. Or, you may give a challenge to congregants for them to go say “Thank you” at loud to one new person every single day. Focus the Thanksgiving Service on how thankfulness should be central to our lives always, and how Thanksgiving is just a holiday that allows us to recenter and re-focus on that annually.
The Thanksgiving Service: Spark Attendance, Participation, and Generosity
If you lead a congregation and you want people to get more involved in the coming months, consider having a Thanksgiving Service for the upcoming holiday. While Thanksgiving is not traditionally a Christian event, it is an opportunity to teach about and celebrate some of the same core values that lie at the heart of the religion. In addition to being a good opportunity to add in special services and a way to give families structured, fulfilling activities to do together, the holidays can also be a chance for your congregation to raise funds and help bring in more donations that can help your church continue to grow and thrive.
For fundraising and development during the upcoming holiday season, consider using NewFire Giving to help. This online giving platform comes with an app that can help make giving to your church easier and more convenient for congregants for all agents. It also has software that works on kiosks, so visitors who come during the holidays can physically make gifts while they are there. Also, NewFire Giving incorporates text-to-give, so you can appeal to younger generations who prefer to accomplish tasks from the convenience of their smartphones. Finally, NewFire Giving also comes with an educational program that can help you learn more about how to effectively fundraise so that your church is thriving and always has enough funds to run effective programming, maintain safe and beautiful structures, recruit new members, and pay a staff that can help nurture and lead.
To learn more about NewFire Giving and how it can help your congregation during this upcoming holiday season, get in touch with us today. We'll help you pick the plan that's best for you and teach you how to start growing your congregation in effective, sustainable ways.