With vacation Bible school and the annual fall festival behind you, resist the temptation to put away the pumpkins and scarecrows and pull out the Nativity scenes. There are several reasons why Thanksgiving should receive more than a nod on the church calendar:
- Gratitude is an integral part of God’s word. Giving thanks is commanded in the Old Testament and New Testament. The term “thanks” appears 100 times in the King James version of the Bible, and “give thanks” appears 48 times.
- Expressing gratitude has been scientifically proven to improve physical, mental and spiritual health.
- Psychological research indicates that grateful people are more likely to give back to their communities and beyond. In essence, being thankful helps motivate people to do for others.
Lingering COVID-19 concerns in some areas may be putting a damper on plans for a traditional communal Thanksgiving meal or other large in-person gathering. If that’s the case for your church, consider trying a few of these creative ideas to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.
Adopt a friend
Encourage members of your congregation to invite someone new to their individual Thanksgiving celebrations. Use a free service such as SignUp.com or VolunteerSignup.org to organize an adopt-a-friend program. Ask members to sign up to be a guest or host a guest.
TakeThemaMeal.com and MealTrain.com can help you plan for and arrange delivery of meals for homebound individuals and seniors who may not be able or willing to travel.
Bless a traveler
What could be a better gift for a traveler than a free ride? Purchase and hand out gift cards for Uber, Lift or taxi services to provide free rides from the airport or bus station courtesy of your church.
If there are members of your congregation who are employed as drivers, you may be able to team up to pay for rides directly. If your church doesn’t have the budget for that type of expense, recruit volunteers who can provide rides.
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Create a Thanksgiving keepsake
Purchase a large high-quality banner with the name of your church and lots of white space. Display it in the lobby on a table along with permanent markers. Ask members of your congregation to decorate a standing or hanging banner with spiritual thanksgivings. Plan to display the banner each Thanksgiving season. The same idea can be applied to a white tablecloth or flag.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, devote the entire service to a Thanksgiving ceremony, or host a brief in-person or online service on Thanksgiving morning. Include a Thanksgiving prayer and Scripture reading.
Ask members to consider how they can express their gratitude and give back to Christian ministries, churches or individuals who have contributed to their spiritual well-being. Encourage them to bless an organization or person with a financial gift during November.
This is the perfect time for you to spotlight the end-of-year giving campaign for The Advance or the Giving Tuesday campaign for the general agencies of The United Methodist Church.
Engage your online friends with Thanksgiving memes, quotes and Scripture. Post questions and give social media audiences the opportunity to publicly share things for which they are thankful. Include links to songs, sermons, prayers, podcasts and devotions that encourage thankfulness. Highlight resources for celebrations in the home.
Send Thanksgiving cards
Mark one December to-do item off your list. Send Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards. Small groups can host card parties to write and send cards. Churches may want to send postcards or Thanksgiving-themed invitations.
Children and creative adults may even want to make their own. If you want to save on postage, check out the many online greeting card companies. Some options are even free.
Don’t forget the food
Most people still associate Thanksgiving with a good meal. Even if your church forgoes a large gathering, you can help members of your congregation break bread together by:
- Encouraging small groups to host meals.
- Hosting a food drive. Pair congregants to assemble and deliver food boxes. Encourage them to go out to lunch after making their delivery.
- Having a progressive meal for singles.
- Having a church picnic. Provide box lunches or ask everyone to bring their own food. Provide live music, a special Scripture reading and prayer.
- Blessing your members with $5 gift cards to a local restaurant or coffee shop. (This could even be a coupon for your in-church cafe if you have one.)
Whether you go big or go small, don’t skip over Thanksgiving. It’s a time to be grateful, a time to be glad and a time for celebration.
Tricia K. Brown is an author, speaker and Bible teacher. You can read her blog at The Girls Get Together or purchase her devotional book, ”A Year of Yearning,” from Amazon.