My parents were into Friendsgiving before it was cool. Every Thanksgiving, my sisters and I planned on at least one unexpected face—maybe an international student, a family who’d just moved to town, a single who wasn’t traveling to see family.

They’d show up at the front door, breath puffing in the chill, toting a pumpkin pie or bag of dinner rolls, or a bashful toddler and a pack ‘n’ play.

These are the Thanksgiving memories I love most: motley, crowded tables; a vat of mashed potatoes; and laughter floating to the ceiling. Because doubling a recipe and scooting up a folding chair isn’t nearly as hard as you’d think. But it’s a lot more rewarding.

I imagine this table to be somewhat reminiscent of God’s.

Come one, come all

God fills His feasts with the lame, the blind, the outcasts (check out Matthew 22:1-10). To a group of people He knew were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17)—yet thought they were rich and prosperous—He said , “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

God loves a good party. In the Old Testament, He commanded seven feasts(!) for His people throughout the year—a shadow, no doubt, of the feasts His people will enjoy in heaven (Revelation 19:9). Remember how Jesus’ first miracle was providing wine for a party?

And there’s just something about sharing the gift of presence together around the table. In Acts 2, we read about the new Church: “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (verses 46-47).

In fact, when Jesus visited two disciples walking to Emmaus after His death, they invited Him to eat with them, and “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).

In sharing our tables, we are not the rescuers, but the rescued. We welcome because God’s welcomed us (Romans 15:7).

Find holiday encouragement for you and your family in our Holiday Survival Guide.

Friendsgiving ideas: Who should I ask?

Your Friendsgiving ideas start here. Before your feast, pray about who God would bring to your table—and keep your eyes alert and your verbal invite ready.

Consider inviting those who:

  • Have lost someone.
  • Are natural “outsiders” for one reason or another.
  • Are foreigners, are traveling through, or are new to the area.
  • Might be alone or might not have an invitation somewhere else.
  • Are singles or single parents.
  • Are elderly.
  • Could help ease the load as you invite others—who give life to your family.

Who would God love you to ask?

How can I pull this thing off?

Repeat after me: Friendsgiving is not about me playing hero host. Invite everyone to collaborate—and shift your goal toward relaxed connection and gratitude, rather than impressing your guests. (Catch more thoughts on this in Around the Table: Why Hospitality Is Vital to Your Soul.)

If I’m seeking to extend Christ’s welcome, it’s not with my perfection or image-management.

People will probably not remember my pie crust. (Not that memorable, but is that my goal?) They will remember if I was sincerely, undistractedly present with them. They’ll remember if I was interested in their story. Whether they felt loved and received.

So let’s make space for that. Try:

  • Using compostable plates (sayonara, running the dishwasher three times).
  • Asking people to “sign up” for one to two dishes, even if they don’t cook (veggie trays, apple cider, and bagged salad are all totally game). Tip: If there’s a dish that says “Thanksgiving” to them, like the green bean casserole—invite them to bring it. Don’t compete with their Aunt Sally’s heritage recipe with the secret ingredient.
  • Delegating activities: your kids cleaning the bathrooms before guests arrive; that friend who’s great with kids bringing activities for a pre-feast kids’ table; that dude who would be perfect organizing a post-food-coma game of touch football.
  • Sitting down for ten minutes of planning ahead of time. What can be done one or two days before? What should make your grocery list (um, toilet paper)? Do your guests have any special needs (allergies? A booster seat?)?

Get grateful: Friendsgiving ideas for thankfulness

In the story of Jesus forgiving a man’s sin before He healed his legs (Luke 5:17-26), I’m reminded my guests’ deepest needs are soul-level. But those needs can be nurtured by tangible experiences: a good listener, a kind word, an environment of open arms and authenticity.

Thanksgiving opens the doors for this. Giving thanks tips our eyes upward from our circumstances toward a Giver. And connecting genuinely with others heals a multitude of ills.

So consider Friendsgiving ideas like these:

  • Before the feast, carve out one-on-one time with God, asking Him to bring your heart to a place ready to extend His smile and genuine warmth (Romans 12:9)—rather than checking every box, achieving the perfect meal, or maintaining peace or crowd control. In Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Hayley Barton writes that when we prioritize our inner world, “We will have bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our intimacy with God.”
  • Open the meal with heartfelt prayer. Consider asking one of your kids to pray, too.
  • Keep a few conversation starters in your back pocket to encourage guests to share about themselves: “Tell me a little about your year.”
  • Use rolls of brown paper for your tablecloth. Lay out markers and write “I am thankful for…” in the middle as a prompt for guests.
  • In passing, verbally communicate one thing you appreciate about each guest. Thank them for sharing this day with you.

What if something goes wrong?

I can almost guarantee you something will go awry when you’re hosting a bunch of humans together. But when it does? That’s your opportunity to show them our Jesus-in-the-mess—a God who, as we’ll soon be celebrating, was literally born in a barn.

That political conflict, that child smarting off, that burned turkey? They’re chances to show guests Jesus loves us like we are. He came to bring a peace bigger than a political party, children who make us look good, or perfectly moist poultry.

So if and when your Friendsgiving isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean “Proceed to faking it better.” Show your guests that your quirky middle schooler, their opinionated teenager, and all of our broken hearts can find their places at God’s table.

He’s been enough so we don’t have to be.

Copyright © 2021 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), empowers parents to creatively engage kids in vibrant spirituality. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at, and on Instagram @janelbreit.