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Thanksgiving Ideas for Your Student Ministry

Thanksgiving is coming! For some, the celebration of this season with decorations, meal planning, and “gobble ‘til you wobble” signs begins strictly on November 1st. Meanwhile, others prefer to confetti their homes with fake leaves and pumpkins starting as early as September. Whatever your preferences, the recurrence of Thanksgiving tradition brings a sense of comfort and normalcy.

Decorations and traditions aside, however, the reason we gather together in November is to look back over the blessings of the past year and give thanks to God for how He’s loved us. Have you already been emphasizing an attitude of thankfulness with your students throughout the year? Absolutely! Are your personal, professional, and ministry schedules already full to bursting from October through January? I’m sure they are. But you don’t want to overlook the low-hanging fruit of opportunity to sit and reflect on God’s goodness with your students. Thankfully, some of the sweetest, most meaningful traditions are simple, straightforward, and don’t have to require much prep. It is truly not about decorations or a required wow factor. It’s about taking time with the people in front of us and thanking our God together. From either end of the complexity spectrum, here are some ideas I received from leaders like you that can help you engage your students this Thanksgiving.

  • Serve a Thanksgiving dinner to the elderly members of your church. This will take some prep and coordination with other ministries, but think of the relationships built during this special time! Your students will see how serving others can fill their hearts with gratitude. This activity would be meaningful to all participants.
  • Serve each other a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving-type treat while watching the movie! This one is precious on so many levels. If you’re unfamiliar with a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (stop what you’re doing right now and watch it), it consists of popcorn, buttered toast, pretzels, and jellybeans. The menu is simple and inexpensive, the students can handle bringing it on their own, and they are thinking of one another in the process.
  • Invite your small group over to your home to make chocolate-covered pretzels or bake cookies or bread. Ask them each to think of a person or family for which they are particularly thankful, then deliver the treats and let them know how they’ve been a blessing.
  • Though many Thanksgiving traditions revolve around cooking, break out of that mold and put together Thanksgiving baskets to send to shut-ins, nursing homes, and families in need. These could contain a variety of items, anything from a personal note with a holiday craft to a full Thanksgiving meal-in-a-box, depending on the need.
  • One of my favorite suggestions that can be done alongside any of the projects above is to have a time of reflection on God’s goodness to your specific youth group. Remind them of answered prayers for sick loved ones. Think back to each person who accepted Christ as their Savior this year and celebrate again! Remember how God cared for each of them through the pandemic. Be as specific as you can. Then give them the space to share their personal stories. Has there been progress made in their walk with Christ that they’re comfortable sharing out loud? Encourage it! It’s too easy to forget His goodness and provision when the moment of need has passed. 

Allow these traditions, silly or serious, to be a tool that propels us to worship our Savior with thanksgiving and a heart of praise!

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