Ann Michel of the Lewis Center staff suggests ways that churches can cultivate an attitude of gratitude — a mindset that makes people more mindful of God’s abundance, more generous, happier, and more content.
Giving thanks to God is the most fundamental way we praise and worship God. Cultivating our sense of gratitude deepens our love of God. And acknowledging our gratitude is also the wellspring of Christian generosity since our most basic reason for giving is in response to what God has given us. Gratitude and generosity are so closely related theologically that they are two sides of the same coin.
Psychological research documents that people who regularly practice gratitude by taking notice and reflecting on things they’re thankful for are happier and healthier and they engage others in more compassionate ways. In this season of gratitude and generosity, what can your church do to cultivate an attitude of gratitude — a mindset that will make people not only happier and more content, but also more generous with the church and others?
1. Exercise the vocabulary of gratitude.
Congregations have the opportunity week in and week out to instill a mindset of gratitude by saturating their prayers, preaching, and worship with references to God’s generosity and our posture of thankfulness. Help congregants understand the connection between faith and gratitude by consistently using a vocabulary of gratitude, not just during the offering or on Sunday mornings but in framing every aspect of congregational life.
2. Adopt simple spiritual practices.
Asking people to reflect and name what they are grateful for enhances mindfulness and cultivates a heart of thanksgiving. One simple practice is to ask each person gathered at the family dinner table or in church meeting rooms to share briefly something they are grateful for. Another is to keep a gratitude journal or consistently place thanksgiving at the start of personal and corporate prayer. Churches should encourage individuals and groups to adopt these simple practices.
3. Say thank you!
Gratitude is contagious! When we regularly express our thanks to others, it not only makes us more mindful of our own gratitude, it also models for them a mindset of gratefulness. Gratitude and generosity are mutually reinforcing. Unfortunately, it is all too common for churches to exhort people to give while never appropriately thanking those who contribute and serve. Churches with strong cultures of gratitude are intentional about saying thank you at every conceivable juncture.
4. Put your gratitude on display.
Expressing gratitude can be creative and fun! For example, create a “gratitude tree” and invite people to pin up leaves with notes expressing what they are grateful for. This allows people of all ages to put their gratitude on display. And reading the gratitude leaf collection is a powerful, humbling reminder of how we touch the lives of others. Worship testimonies and social media posts are other inspirational ways people can share their gratitude.
Giving thanks places us in proper relationship with God. It reminds us of God’s abundant generosity and grace. And it shapes our hearts for generosity. Cultivating gratitude is at the heart of our mission as the people of God.