Thanksgiving is upon us, fall is in full swing, kids are back to school, the leaves are changing along with the weather. While it may seem that Thanksgiving church services are easy to plan because the theme is so obvious, focused and well-known, it may be more limiting or difficult than one might think. Especially when we have been doing this year after year, trying to keep each Thanksgiving service fresh and relevant might be difficult. Maybe we’ve been doing the same thing year in and year out and would like a fresh perspective. Here are 15 important tips to elevate our Thanksgiving services!
It has been nearly 400 years since the very first Thanksgiving in the United States. The actual date of the celebration shifted around throughout the years before finally resting on the last Thursday of November, but the spirit of the celebration remains the same. This was set in motion by President Abraham Lincoln on Thanksgiving Day October 20, 1864. President Lincoln stated:
“Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”
It is through thankfulness to God that our faith is reinforced and strongholds are broken in our lives. Be sure to check out our Top 30 Bible Verses for Thanksgiving to be further encouraged to live a life of thanksgiving and praise towards God!
15 Important Tips for an Amazing Thanksgiving Service
As we know, it’s always most important to seek God and His guidance from start to finish. Let’s ask God how He would have us proceed and ask for ideas on how to honor Him and bless His people. In the weeks leading up to the service, it is important to have the church pray for God’s blessing and for success in all our endeavors. At the actual event have certain people pray a public, faith-filled prayer of Thanksgiving on everyone’s behalf.
Evaluate the Current Service
A Thanksgiving Service doesn’t have to be completely different from a normal Sunday service. There are aspects of the service that resonates well with the congregation. Be mindful of these elements and look to incorporate them. God will ultimately move through the service and we are gifted and directed in certain ways for God’s sake, not ours. Don’t feel obligated to completely change the service structure and lose the impact of the congregation.
The build-up to Thanksgiving begins weeks in advance. Let people know the chosen date for your event(s) in the church bulletin or on the website. Present harvest-themed brochures, presentation backgrounds and worship loops with Bible verses about praise and thanksgiving, reminders of God’s faithfulness and His goodness.
Announce opportunities to serve ahead of time, and where and when to sign-up. Have small group leaders spread the word and remind them to build expectation and participation. Ask them to recommend people who might give testimonies about God’s faithfulness. Also, ask them if they are aware of others who have suffered hardship so the church can bless them by fulfilling a need.
Set a Spiritual Goal
Setting goals is a tool many businesses use to drive motivation. For the church, this is a little different, Christ’s love compels us to do what we do. So why set a spiritual goal? Mainly because it focuses the efforts and energy towards one common element. This is not a number-driven goal either. What we are referring to is to set a goal as the leadership team to:
- Impact one person today who needs a breakthrough
- Open someone’s eyes to the possibility of a relationship with Jesus
- Have one person feel loved by the congregation that they don’t get from the world
- Open people’s hearts to new friendships or to go deeper with their current friendships
These goals should focus on building up the congregation from a spiritual perspective.
Participation is huge. Get the congregation excited about the Thanksgiving Service; let them know they are needed and passivity is not an option. Delegation is key so that the work is distributed evenly among everyone. We will build a sense of excitement and community by inviting as much participation as possible. Designate people to take the lead in particular areas of service based on their interest, aptitude, and gifting.
God gives to us so that we might give to others. Encourage people to also serve in their communities, irrespective of any formal church event. If it’s a smaller church, look for a worthy charity to support. If it’s a larger church, set up a committee well in advance to plan an event for outreach. Some ideas to consider in and around the day of the Thanksgiving service are:
- Visiting shut-ins.
- Making Thanksgiving dinner for the poor.
- Having a potluck dinner in the community and inviting the neighbors –and for a different twist, try serving something other than turkey (in case people are sick of that), try serving chili, stew or have a taco party.
- Have parishioners bring non-perishables (canned goods) for a food drive.
- Visit a retirement home.
These are just a few practical suggestions to reach out to the community.
Create Buy-In from the Leadership Team
Similarly, the leadership team should be fired-up about the events that are coming up and the opportunities that are presented. This is crucial to display the unity of the body of believers. Pastors should encourage the leadership team to see this tremendous opportunity, and leadership teams need to get involved and create excitement through small groups, bible studies, etc. God presents all of us with opportunities to serve, it is up to us to decide whether or not we want to assume the role or not.
Fellowship Before and After the Service Begins
Fellowship is a great way for congregations to be in community. Plan on having some time before and after the service to speak with visitors or members. This way we can bridge the gap between the pulpit and the pews.
Choose songs that really celebrate God’s goodness and invite participation. We have put together a list of 30 Thanksgiving worship songs that all of us can use throughout the entire month of November leading up to the Thanksgiving service that will help in planning for worship and praise.
Congregational singing is a wonderful way to direct our gaze heavenward and also to promote a sense of community and unity in the body of Christ. Depending on the preferences of a congregation, both contemporary songs and traditional hymns might be best. If a choir has a gifted soloist, a special music performance after the congregational worship time might work well. Choose a contemporary song that really expresses the Thanksgiving theme, or a hymn like, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” to bless the church and invited guests.
Coordinate with the Worship Team
A service should be in-sync. Having all of the aspects of a service in-sync with each other ensures a nice flow from beginning to end. Coordinating a service may seem like a minuscule part of the entire picture but matching the songs to the message will help the overall impact of the service.
Whether a minister enjoys teaching a topical message, having testimonies or preaching an expository sermon, the Thanksgiving message should be inspiring. Here are two ideas:
Being thankful needs to focus on who God is and what He has done. Be mindful that some members have experienced blessings, but some have suffered loss – loss of jobs, homes, and loved ones. Preaching a message about God’s goodness and faithfulness in our strength and weakness will resonate with the full spectrum of the congregation. It’s a message that fixes our eyes on the Lord, not on our circumstances, no matter what we experience. Thank God for the heavenly treasures, “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20).
It is wise to remember God’s good providence. Long after the exodus from Egypt, God proclaims, “I AM the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” We should follow a similar pattern and remember that God is active and present in the larger narrative of Scripture, the communion of our church congregations, and in the individual experiences of our lives. He is the Lord who saves us, provides for us, heals us, and equips us. Psalm 107 recounts the overwhelming reasons God’s people have for giving thanks.
Have Themed Sermons for the Entire Month of November
Prepare the congregation all month long! Why not? The season is upon us and we are beginning to see the changing of the seasons, pumpkin spice is slowly appearing everywhere, let’s dive into the season of remembrance starting now. There are many things that we can be thankful and grateful for that one weekend will not be enough.
Have A Call-To-Action/Challenge for Everyone
Drive home the message with an application. James says it perfectly, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:22). We should be able to apply the biblical standard to our everyday lives.
Use Your Heart, not Simply Your Head
As we remember what God has done for us this past year, tap into the heart and not only the head. Head knowledge is helpful for right doctrine, but we must also experience the change in our action and reaction to God’s word as it helps to make us into the image of God.
Less Might Be More
There are some instances where less is more. Peaking the interest of visitors could be beneficial without overwhelming them. The Bible is chock full of information, accounts, teachings, wisdom, and this can easily become overwhelming when we cite 15-20 passages of Scripture with questions and challenges. Some of our members may get overwhelmed, which is not altogether bad, but we should be attentive to our audience and how familiar they might be beyond the basic truths.
Give Directions Not Destinations
Similar to the idea of challenging others, try to emphasize the “How?” and not only the “What?” When we give someone a charge, we are giving them a direction to pursue. We need to explain that God might work in their lives different from other people. We are all being fashioned into God’s image, we are all being shaped to fit into his kingdom come, but because we live different lives with unique experiences, how God works is not always uniform. We may want to remind our congregations with this truth so their focus will be on Jesus alone.
Consider doing a shorter message and use the extra time to have a few people share testimonies of God’s faithfulness in the past year. Have them prepare something in advance and read from cue cards to help them keep their testimonies brief but amazing.
Even if we attend a church that doesn’t use traditional liturgy, every church has some sort of liturgy, some kind of order of worship. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to use a Psalm as part of the service’s framework. Someone could read aloud, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good,” for example, and the congregational responds, “His love endures forever!”
A great sermon idea to cultivate gratefulness is to teach on “Where are the other nine?” This passage from Luke’s Gospel (17:15-19) is the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers and only one responding with thanks. Consider these passages too: Psalm 31:19; Psalm 69:30; Psalm 95:1-6; Psalm 100; Lamentations 3:23; 1 Corinthians 4:7-9; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:18, 1 Timothy 2:1; Hebrews 12:28; and James 1:17.
Lastly, let’s be creative and consider incorporating visuals, videos, or short skits to illustrate a theme. We are most familiar with the needs of our church, so remember to give personal application and a call to action at the end.
“O, give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: speak of all his wondrous works” (Psalm 105:1-2).