Dating back to 1621 when the Pilgrims gave thanks for God’s provisions in the harvest and for their newfound friends, the Wampanoag Indians. They celebrated God’s faithfulness and the freedom they now enjoyed to put him central in their community. In that spirit, we wanted to provide you a top 8 “thanks” list on how to use Thanksgiving effectively at church and in your small groups.
Top 8 Tips To Celebrate Thanksgiving Well in Today’s World
Eat lots of it! In 2013, 46 million turkeys were eaten for Thanksgiving or approximately 736 million pounds. Why is turkey the common food for Thanksgiving? You might be surprised! First, it really does go back to the first Thanksgiving, where Governor Bradford supposedly said, “The great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest.” He also included that, “there was a great store of wild turkeys” that first autumn. The holiday and bird got its formal place on the calendar by Abraham Lincoln during the tumultuous time of the Civil War. Again, it’s a holiday to bring the family together and be thankful for freedom, and religious freedom most especially.
2. Read Scripture
“Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever,” says the Psalmist in 106:1. Psalm 17:7, 28:7, 100:4 are others that call us to thanksgiving. Take a few minutes and read a few key verses. You may want to find verses ahead of time and place them on cards for each person at the table. That way everyone can participate. This could work nicely for a Bible study and small church setting.
3. Pass the Thanks
This is a practice many families keep, taking time for each person to share a thankful moment from the past year. Why not open this up to your congregation? Perhaps a card is collected in the offering asking each person to share a moment of thanks about the church. This “passing of thanks” helps center us on God’s charge and our posture–kneeling before his undeniable wonder and grace, that he would love us at all.
4. Use Thanksgiving to prepare for Advent
Because Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Thursday offers a great step into the season. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year and the time of preparation (anticipation) for Christmas. Being thankful for God’s revelation in Christ incarnate, born to set his people free, is a great way to connect the secular holiday of Thanksgiving to the Christian holiday season of Advent.
5. Reintroduce a message of tithing
We know that only 15 percent of churchgoers tithe. The season of thanksgiving is a perfect time to call out the need to be thankful and act on that thankfulness. As Christians, tithing is certainly part of this action.
6. Food drives
Refilling food pantries and providing other community welfare is an easy and appropriate focus during Thanksgiving. Many churches host a meal for anyone who wants to attend, especially those who are in financial need. According to Lifeway, nearly a quarter of Americans have received food from a church-run food pantry. There’s a huge need and you can use this time to motivate lasting programs in your congregation.
7. Encourage your congregation to consider skipping Friday
Black Friday is known for its shopping and overall consumption. It’s a challenge to change any cultural tide and you may not want to tackle this one. You may want to have a general call for defining wants and needs in our society that calls us to stay in debt and be impatient about any and every purchase.
8. Tell the Story of the Pilgrims!
It’s a story of God’s amazing providence and the determination of a people to find freedom! Because the Pilgrims sought religious freedom and this is under ever-growing threats, it’s important to find ways to share the story creatively and, perhaps, use the presentation to correct some misperceptions about the early treatment of Indians, which was not a call for immediate violence. There are also clear points of connection to early Puritans and the reshaping of communities with the church as central.