Picture of a church service

With so much attention (rightly so) going to the Advent & Christmas season, ministry during the Thanksgiving season can often be overlooked or even forgotten. Planning a Thanksgiving worship service can be a difficult task with so many other ministry responsibilities.

In a recent poll, we found that most plan community events or a community meal, while some also take the time to plan a Thanksgiving worship service that focuses on the themes we celebrate this time of year. Most resources are dedicated to Christman/Advent which leaves churches wanting for Thanksgiving-specific resources.

So when it comes to planning this service, how can we create an engaging and impactful Thanksgiving worship service?

Focus on gratitude

This may seem obvious, but determining the focus of the service gives a clear direction. When you land on a theme, you then can build your service (both service structure and elements) around that theme. You have a clear frame that helps decide what you should do and more importantly, what you shouldn’t do.

It’s also worth noting that we usually don’t have entire services focused on gratitude. While it’s a theme that’s touched on, dedicating a whole service to it allows going deeper and helps people see all they have to be thankful for. A clear focus and direction are a few advantages of planning a Thanksgiving worship service.

Increase Interaction

Gathering for a worship service is not a spectator sport. When the church gathers, it’s to participate in an experience together, not watch others as they perform. Why does this matter? It reminds us that we are a part of a community and belong to the Kingdom of God.

Increasing interaction gives a tangible reminder of this truth. Additionally, the holidays can be a lonely time for some. When we provide tangible reminders of community, this can strengthen and encourage those who may feel a lack of it.

So how do we do this? Look for moments throughout your service that rely on participation. Maybe that’s an open mic scripture reading where people can share scripture that has impacted them. It can be powerful to write things down. Consider providing a simple index card where they can capture what they are thankful for and encourage them to meditate on it throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s giving space for people to pray with one another. Whatever it is, look for ways to increase interaction when planning a thanksgiving worship service.

Remember Guests

The holidays in general, and Thanksgiving in particular, are popular times for guests to visit your church. Whether it’s family members coming into town or people from your community giving your church a “test drive” before Christmas Eve, thinking about guests is an essential part of planning a thanksgiving worship service.

One of the ways to do this is to plan the service and then “experience it” as a guest. This means visualizing every element of the service and asking yourself, “how would this feel if I was new here?”. Would you understand what was happening? Is the language you use easily understood? Would you feel welcome? Would you feel alienated? Use this process to get a sense of how your Thanksgiving worship service will feel to guests and then make adjustments where necessary.

Lastly, provide next steps. Make sure your guests and regular attenders know all the details for how they can plug in over the next month. You may consider a special Christmas insert, a page on your mobile app, or a QR code on the screen they can scan that lists every event happening this Christmas season at your church. This includes community outreach events, regular weekly Advent-themed worship services, Christmas Eve services, etc. Bonus: As they go, challenge people to share these Christmas events with those in their neighborhood, workplaces, etc.

Include a Meal

There is a lot of significance in sharing a meal together. Some of the most powerful moments of Jesus’ ministry happened over a meal. While planning a Thanksgiving worship service focuses on the service itself, don’t ignore the opportunity to include a meal after.

Including a meal after your service can provide some of the following:

  • A chance for deeper connection and conversation.
  • A Thanksgiving meal for those who may not have a place to go on Thanksgiving.
  • Tangible ministry for anyone who may be lacking resources.
  • A connection point for someone new to the church.

While it does require additional work and resources, including a meal as a part of your Thanksgiving worship service can be a tremendous blessing to those who join you.

Need Some Help?

Below you’ll find service elements that you can consider as you are planning a Thanksgiving worship service. Whether they find a place in your service or act as a springboard for your creativity, we hope you find them helpful.

BONUS: 11 Service Elements For Your Thanksgiving Service:

  1. Gratitude Wall – have people write what they are thankful for on a large display. This encourages others
  2. Open Mic Scripture Reading – invite people to share scripture that stirs gratitude in their hearts.
  3. Special Offering – take an offering that specifically goes to funding food for people in need.
  4. Live Testimony – give people time to share a testimony of how God has been faithful to them recently.
  5. Family Service – this is more a service type than an element, but the advantage is kids get to participate and it lowers your volunteer need.
  6. Thanksgiving Scripture Readings – Psalm 7:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Philippians 4:6, Psalm 95:1-3, Colossians 3:15, Psalms 136:1-3, 2 Corinthians 2:14, Colossians 4:2, Ephesians 5:19-20.
  7. Kids Testimony – have kids share what they are thankful for. You can do this live or pre-record it on video.
  8. Sing Thanksgiving Songs – use some of the Thanksgiving songs listed here or here.
  9. Text Your Gratitude – give people time to think of who they are thankful for in their lives and then send them a text expressing their gratitude.
  10. Provide Time to Reflect – give people time to sit and meditate on what they are thankful to the Lord for. Can even give a card for people to write this down on.
  11. Testimony Video – capture a video of someone sharing a testimony of what they are grateful for and why.