Why & How Your Church Should Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Why & How Your Church Should Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

January 7, 2015 by

Grab free Martin Luther King Jr. Day graphicsMartin Luther King Jr. Day is coming up in less than two weeks. But that includes two Sundays—there’s still time for your church to take part. We’ve got plenty of ideas for how to do it, plus some rationale for why it’s important.

Why Should Your Church Care About MLK Day?

All right, why is Martin Luther King Jr. Day such a big deal?

1. It’s Our Holiday

How many holidays are dedicated to a pastor? We’ve got a couple for saints (Valentine and Patrick), but whatever Christian origin those holidays had they’re now drowned in romantic love and beer. In an age when marketers will use George Washington to sell anything, it’s at least still considered tacky to offer MLK Day sales (though as Stephen Colbert pointed out in 2011, it’s happening).

“This holiday should be a big deal for churches,” our founder Brad Abare wrote about MLK Day, “Outside of Christmas and Easter, no other holiday represents the heart of God so much.”

Martin Luther King Jr. is our people. Churches should be embracing and celebrating this holiday like no other.

2. We’re Not Innocent

We tend to look back on the civil rights movement with rose colored glasses. It was a just cause and simply inevitable, right? Wrong. King went to jail. While sitting there, he wrote a letter and referenced the many Christians who stood silent:

“All too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”

While the church may be able to claim the greatest civil rights hero of the 20th century, we’re also complicit in the injustice King stood against. For all the marches and lunch counter sit-ins, we forget that there were also “kneel-ins” targeting segregated churches. Yeah, the ‘bad guys’ weren’t just  swinging batons and fire-bombing buses. Churches barred the doors and wouldn’t let people in.

Churches must own our broken past and work for a better future.

“This holiday should be a big deal for churches. Outside Christmas and Easter, no other holiday represents the heart of God so much.”

3. We’re Not Free at Last

We haven’t made it to the mountaintop yet. Electing (and reelecting) a black president is an incredible milestone, but it doesn’t mean racial issues are behind us. See: Ferguson. People still argue about the details, but similar incidents—including Eric Garner and Tamir Rice—spark even more debate and protest.

If the headlines don’t convince you, maybe the research will. We have come along way in racial relations (say 74%), but 81% say we have a long way to go.

Your church should care about MLK Day because it’s a ready-made opportunity to bring the gospel to this often divisive issue. We’re still short of King’s dream and we’ve got some work to do.

4. Speak Up for the Minority

“On the surface, most Americans agree that racial reconciliation matters,” says Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But we’re divided about how important this issue is. For many white Americans, progress on issues of race is a good thing but not urgent. For many African-Americans, it’s front and center.”

Even if this issue isn’t pressing for you personally, it is an opportunity to speak up for the minority. That’s something the Bible continually champions with calls to care for the “alien, the fatherless and the widow.”

I can’t say it enough: MLK Day is the church’s holiday.

How Can My Church Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

OK, we get it. MLK Day is a holiday we should get behind. So what can we do?

Lots. It’s probably too late to plan your own event, but there’s plenty you can do to take part in Martin Luther King Jr. Day and celebrate the legacy of this Baptist minister.

1. Not a Day Off

First and foremost, don’t take the day off. Yes, it’s a federal holiday. But it’s also an opportunity to do good. Make it a day to volunteer. Look for local opportunities to serve and mobilize your church to take part.

2. Post to Social Media: Free MLK Day Graphics

Share something on social media honoring King. There are plenty of inspiring quotes to choose from and ways to connect the dots between King’s life and the work of your church. Ask people to share their dreams. Ask about people’s memories of King. Ask people to confess their embarrassing stories of confusing Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. (at some point we’ve all been there).

We’ll give you some help with some free MLK graphics:

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Free Graphic

Download the Martin Luther King Jr. Day graphics

Or get creative and make your own graphics. There are plenty of powerful MLK quotes you can use. If you need some help, Brady Shearer’s Church Graphics Handbook can get you started.

3. Confront Racial Realities

A recent study showed there’s not much diversity among our friends. On average, for every 91 white friends a white person has, they have only one black friend. Blacks do better with 8 white friends for every 83 black friends. But a full 75% of white people have zero black friends.

Not an easy conversation is it? Kind of awkward.

But it’s a conversation we need to have. Use MLK Day to address racial issues in your church, your families, your friends and neighborhood.

(And let’s be clear: A lack of diversity does not make anyone racist.  These stats are the simple reality that we’re segregated, hopefully unintentionally. Let’s change that.)

4. Work MLK Into the Service

You can also honor Martin Luther King Jr. in your worship service. With songs, videos, dramas, readings, prayers and lectionary elements, there’s lots to choose from. Here are a few resources:

5. Talk About MLK in Your Sermon

Perhaps the simplest thing you can do is talk about King in your sermon. It’s hardly a stretch to quote a fellow pastor.

6. Research Local Events

Find some local Martin Luther King Jr. Day events and share them with your church. This doesn’t have to be a big, organized affair. Just post an article on your website talking about King and list the local events. Encourage your congregation to check one out.

7. Encourage Further Research

Exploring the life and work of King or racial issues doesn’t have to end after MLK Day. Encourage your church to continue engaging in this topic.


We’re big fans of Martin Luther King Jr. around here. Check out some of our other posts:

Photo by Warren K. Leffler, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection, public domain.
Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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