The Dos and Don’ts for Every Church Thanksgiving Service

As far as holidays are concerned, Thanksgiving doesn’t get the church attention it deserves. The entire Bible recognizes how essential it is to be grateful . And Thanksgiving provides an opportunity for churches to draw attention to this critical discipline. 

If you’re considering your own Thanksgiving service, make sure you spend time planning first, because, if you don’t put intentional thought into celebrating Thanksgiving, it can lead to doing or saying the wrong things. We’ve outlined some nine elements churches should think about when it comes to Thanksgiving.


1. Remember your history

Thanksgiving provides an opportunity for your church to look back and celebrate your origin and victories. As a community, it’s healthy to look back and remember:

  • Your church’s origin story
  • Challenges you’ve overcome as a congregation
  • Victories your church has experienced
  • Significant leaders who have helped shape your church’s culture

It’s easy to forget that any given Sunday is but a moment in your church’s history. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to remember how God has led you to where you are today.

2. Share testimonies

Not only do you need to remember how God has come through for your congregation, but people also need the encouragement of hearing how He’s blessed individuals. Having open mic testimonial times can be incredibly hit or miss, but if there are a couple of pivotal stories over the last year, give the individuals involved some time to share.

3. Remind everyone of the mission

Throughout the Old Testament, people would build altars to commemorate an encounter with God. When Israelites came in contact with these memorials, they’d remember God’s faithfulness. But the reason they wanted to remember these significant moments was so they could have faith as they moved toward the future.

Hopefully, your church has a critical mission ahead of it, and it’s going to take faith to see it accomplished. As their gratitude is aroused, it’s time to remind them of the journey they have ahead of them.

4. Spend time in worship and prayer

At its most basic level, Christian thankfulness is worship. It recognizes God’s goodness and responds with praise. Any church service built around our gratefulness should include time to focus on worship. As the writer of the Psalms reminds us, our gratitude is the key to entering into God’s presence:

Enter His gates with thanksgiving,

and His courts with praise!

Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

For the Lord is good;

His steadfast love endures forever,

and His faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:4-5, ESV ).

5. Give opportunities to serve and give

Generosity is always the right response to thankfulness. That’s why it’s so important to provide opportunities for people to respond to their gratitude by giving.

You can use this time to begin your year-end-giving push which will carry you through the end of the year. You can also use this as a time to kick off a new community partnership. It could be that there’s a food pantry in your city you’d like to raise money for. Or maybe you want to encourage volunteers to get involved with a local prison visitation ministry. A Thanksgiving-centered service is a perfect time to get it started.


1. Assume everyone has had the same experience:

The church should be a place where people experience healing. But if you assume everyone experiences the same idealized, Hallmark-style Thanksgiving, you might be adding insult to injury.

2. Miss the opportunity to host community meals:

If there isn’t already a public Thanksgiving meal in your area, your church can organize one. Invite members of the community to serve alongside your congregation, make new friends, and enjoy a Thanksgiving celebration.

3. Miss the chance to promote generosity:

Your Thanksgiving service is a great time to talk about the importance of generosity, reiterate what generosity looks like at your church, and even highlight some of the specific ministries or projects your congregation can financially support—especially if those donations directly impact less fortunate people in your community.

4. Focus on a limiting definition of family:

As the church, we should also remember that we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5). If you want your congregation to believe they’re part of your church family—and God’s—your church needs to treat them as such. Encourage your staff and congregation to invite church members to their own Thanksgiving day celebrations. Or host a Thanksgiving dinner on campus.

Embracing Thanksgiving

Not every secular holiday has such an essential connection to Christianity. But giving thanks is such a crucial element of the faith that it makes sense to make a big deal out of Thanksgiving. During your Thanksgiving season, your church is likely to see a surge in people willing to lend a hand to your church. As you share opportunities for your community to serve your ministry and be generous, make sure your volunteer culture is thriving. If people have a good experience with your church during Thanksgiving, they’re likely to serve throughout the holiday season.

Discover how your church can create a healthy, sustainable volunteer culture this Thanksgiving. Download the free ebook, The Definitive Guide to Finding, Training, and Keeping Church Volunteers, today!

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