Thanksgiving Service Project

Teambuilding, Mission Trips and Service

This is a an example of an all church service project for adults, families and youth.

Enhancer of Joy


Lesson Developed by

Caroline Ainsworth Huges and Kelly Antonson


Expressions of Gratitude

Tips to Prepare

  • Three months out, coordinate partner sites to confirm participation, number of meals, night of logistics.
  • Contact a local store(s) regarding donation of turkeys.
  • Order boxes for meal sides and dessert.
  • Coordinate with other church programs for Thanksgiving Service Project (fundraising in church school, possible Missions committee (or other committee) grant for purchasing of food and supplies, family-oriented project of putting together a box of meal sides and dessert and making cards)
  • One month out, confirm parent drivers, identify number of seats and storage for car.
  • Touch base with partner sites, acquire contact name and number for night of.
  • Coordinate with other church programs to make sure all is in place.
  • One week before send weekly (or monthly) flyer to all known 9th-12th graders. Week of confirm with ministry team that all is in place, send a reminder to all sites.
  • Make sure driving directions and contact numbers for sites are printed.
  • Day before or day of: make sure boxes, food and turkeys are all delivered to the church.
  • Day of, have construction paper, markers, stickers for cards.  Tape, scissors and ribbon for boxes.
  • Day of, take photographs or video to see entire church engaged around a single service project.
  • Meet with ministry team or parent volunteers 30 minutes before event.

Materials Checklist

If this is an all church project, other programs will be responsible for different pieces and supplies.  If it is a youth group event only, make sure you have the following:

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Tape, Scissors, Ribbon
  • Construction paper, markers, stickers for cards
  • Food for sides (boxes of stuffing, mashed potato mix, cranberry sauce, canned yams, cookies or other dessert – or similar items)
  • Turkeys
  • Print outs of the scripture
  • Driver schedule
  • Driving directions and contact information for partner sites
  • Name tags and sharpies/pens
  • Someone assigned to take photos
  • Corn kernels – enough for the entire group to have 3 each (organized by number of people in each vehicle – can give to the driver)

Setting the Atmosphere

  • Set up tables for assembly of boxes as needed
  • Organize and label by partner site

Scripture Focus

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


This Thanksgiving Service project is a relational project, putting youth group in conversation with multiple local agencies as well as sharing in service with other programs within the church.

Students will leave having participated in service of neighbor framed explicitly in Christian terms and will have an opportunity to share their own gratitudes.


Students will engage in service of neighbor as a Christian community.
Students will hear about the work a local agency is doing to address injustice.
Students will share in a spiritual practice of gratitude with team and broader community.
Students will spend time with parent volunteers.

Further Study

If this a required/covenant event for a mission trip or retreat, all mission trip participants will be present for this event. This provides an opportunity to be intentional about both communicating youth group values to all kids, but also for teams to further develop their sense of identity.

Introduction for Leaders

This event will address hope; agency; purpose/vocation; gratitude; Spiritual Disciplines; resilience; humility in the programming.

Could touch upon prejudice/bigotry/racism; Substance abuse; Absence of resources through the work/mission of the partner agency.



Gather [20 minutes]

Greeting One Another:

  • Youth leader and adult team members (volunteers, committee members, etc) meet early to get driving directions and gratitude activity information.
  • Drivers arrive early and check in with adult leaders/volunteers for instructions.
  • Student leaders arrive 10 minutes early and get name tags ready – greet youth as they arrive and have them put on name tags.
  • Youth group seniors arrive early and get together and select scripture for gratitude activity.
  • Circle up.

Opening Prayer:

  • Frame the evening’s project (through Matthew 25 scripture), thank drivers, hold hands in full circle for prayer over the food.


Engage: [1 hour and 30 minutes]

Activity 1:  Loading Up

  • Ministry team/adult volunteers have drivers come to the loading area.
  • Adult leaders assign students to cars by team and students load the food into vehicles
  • Caravan to partner sites

Activity 2:  Gratitude Exercise

  • Once onsite, find the contact and introduce the team.
  • Unload food.
  • Contact gives tour/orientation to the site and introduces clients/co-workers as appropriate.
  • Circle everyone up and pass around the jar of corn kernels.  Instruct everyone to take 3 kernels.
  • Either the adult leader or a senior leader introduces the activity about gratitude and reads the selected scripture passage (suggestions include:Psalms 9:1; 100:4-5; 118:29, Colossians 2:7)
  • Going around the circle, each person lifts up a gratitude for each corn kernel (my parents, our church, my best friend, having ample food, etc.). 
  • Ask if anyone would like to close the group in prayer. (if not, close in prayer yourself)
  • Return to the church.


Reflect [10 minutes]

  • On the car ride back to the church, ask everyone to reflect on the expressions of gratitude that they heard.  Was there anything that surprised them?  Did anything come up for them that is a new gratitude based on the experience?  What do they think of the work that the site is doing for those in need and how might the student help in the future?

Yale Youth Ministry Institute