You certainly do not have to preach a Thanksgiving sermon series just because it’s a major holiday. But consider the following six big reasons why it might be a good idea to formulate one that resonates with you and your congregation this year.
1. It’s a major biblical theme.
As we’ll see below, Thanksgiving is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. The Old Testament law encourages it, the Psalms model it, Jesus exemplifies it, and the Apostle Paul can’t write a letter without sharing a bunch of it.
This shouldn’t surprise us when we consider that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). As generous as He is to us, the appropriate response is gratitude.
2. Because 2020 has been ROUGH—and people need a new focus.
Nearly everybody would say that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years of their lives.
Not only are there all the normal challenges of life, but add to that a global COVID-19 pandemic, huge economic and employment losses, social unrest related to racial justice, and a presidential election.
You and the people in your church are likely feeling isolated, frustrated, emotionally worn out, and discouraged.
In the midst of a rough year, we need a new focus and a new perspective. Rather than complaining, we need contentment. Rather than tantrums, we need thankfulness.
As you’ll see below, gratitude is a massive biblical theme. But it’s also perhaps one of the most valuable things that believers could cultivate during this difficult year.
As it says in James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
2020 has been a major trial of various kinds. What will help us “count it all joy”? Gratitude.
3. It leads to greater happiness and well-being.
Not only is thanksgiving the appropriate and commanded response to God’s goodness, it’s also in line with how we are created to live. We were not made to be stingy, grumpy, complaining, finding-a-cloud-in-every-silver-lining kind of people.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that practicing gratitude has a number of physical, relational, and mental health benefits. Psychology Today reports a number of significant benefits:
- Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Saying “thank you” to people makes them more likely to want a relationship with you — or to strengthen the relationship you already have.
- Gratitude improves physical health. One 2012 study indicates that thankful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier, and may also be more likely to prioritize other healthy practices.
- Grateful people sleep better. A big part of physical health is sleeping well. A 2011 study indicates that spending time before bed writing down areas of gratitude may lead to better and longer sleep.
- Gratitude improves psychological health. The world’s leading expert on gratitude is Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California – Davis, who discovered that gratitude reduces toxic emotions, increases happiness, and reduces depression.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Thankful people are more likely to be kind to people — even to those who aren’t kind to them. A 2012 study indicates that those who were more grateful were less likely to retaliate when given negative feedback.
- Gratitude improves confidence. When we are grateful, we’re less likely to compare ourselves to others. Guess what? Those who don’t play the comparison game are more likely to be confident, happy, and able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
- Gratitude increases mental strength. Life is hard, and for some the challenge is multiplied by facing trauma. How do we cope? One strategy is gratitude. Multiple studies have shown that those who practice gratitude have more resilience and lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As a pastor and preacher, your job isn’t to make people feel good. But if you can help people develop practices that honor God and improve their well-being — that’s a good reason to try!
4. It equips people to fight the pain of the holiday season.
The time from Thanksgiving to Christmas can often be the best and worst time of the year. While some people relish every moment, many others can’t wait for it to be over.
The pain of the holidays often comes from grieving the loss of loved ones, an increased sense of isolation, colder weather, shorter days, extra stress, financial pressures, and the expectation to be happy all the time.
If gratitude is a practice that increases happiness and well-being, then what better time would there be to preach on thanksgiving in the months of November or December?
Think about how a Thanksgiving sermon series might equip and prepare your people with the necessary resources to resist and push back against the holiday blues.
5. It paves the way for generosity.
The Bible indicates that gratitude and generosity are linked (2 Corinthians 9:11-12), and research demonstrates that it’s true. Grateful people enjoy giving more, and generous people tend to be more grateful.
Christina Karns, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, did an experiment where participants were in a brain scanner while they watched a computer either give actual money to a food bank or put it in their own account. What did she see? Here’s what she says:
“It turns out that the neural connection between gratitude and giving is very deep, both literally and figuratively. A region deep in the frontal lobe of the brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is key to supporting both. Anatomically, this region is wired up to be a hub for processing the value of risk and reward; it’s richly connected to even deeper brain regions that provide a kick of pleasurable neurochemicals in the right circumstances.”
“The participants I’d identified as more grateful and more altruistic via a questionnaire [showed] a stronger response in these reward regions of the brain when they saw the charity gaining money. It felt good for them to see the food bank do well.”
Karns decided to see if gratitude also helped people become more generous. It did. Those who started journaling about their areas of gratitude became more attracted to charitable giving than receiving money for themselves. She said:
“Practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It changed the exchange rate in the brain. Giving to charity became more valuable than receiving money yourself.”
As pastors, we want our people to be generous with their resources. We want this for their sake and for the sake of the church’s mission.
Additionally, many churches create new giving opportunities during the holiday season. Preaching a Thanksgiving sermon series is one powerful step in the process of helping people grow in generosity.
Here’s an example of a series that brilliantly ties gratitude and generosity together.
6. It’s something that appeals to Christians and non-Christians.
As pastors and preachers, we are often looking for something that has relevance and importance for both Christians and non-Christians.
We want our messages to disciple the people already in our church and be an entry point for the gospel with non-Christians. Thanksgiving is a perfect topic to do just that.
Though many of us tend to be naturally more complainers than thanks-givers, we all know that gratitude is a better way. Not only does the Bible say a lot about gratitude (learn more here), but tons of non-Christian websites and articles esteem it as well.
If you ask a non-Christian, “Do you think your life would be better if you were more grateful?” he or she will almost certainly respond affirmatively. We have the opportunity to leverage God’s word to connect with something that will help those with and without Christ — what an opportunity!
Don’t Let Objections Stop You
There are a few objections that usually come up when pastors consider planning a sermon series around the Thanksgiving holiday. To explore examples of the common objections, see our full blog article.
Maybe it feels difficult or risky to preach a Thanksgiving sermon series. But remember, we grow through challenge and risk. We believe the positive outcomes of formulating and delivering a Thanksgiving sermon series will far outweigh the possible challenges.
It’s Time for Gratitude
As mentioned above, this year has been tough for so many people. Perhaps now is the opportune time to offer hope to people by teaching them about the importance of cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
There are great examples of expressing thankfulness in the Bible and numerous times we see that it is something to make a priority in our lives.
And within this article, we’ve provided several Thanksgiving-themed sermon series options for you to explore.
Every day is the right day to offer thanksgiving. This time of year (and this year specifically) makes teaching your congregation about gratitude simple and appropriate.
Once people begin to understand how living in a state of thankfulness not only brings them closer to God, it improves their own health and emotional balance; it will be something you can build upon through the coming new year.