What can churches learn from the ice-bucket challenge?


It may be turn out to be the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of mankind. Toss a bucket of ice water over your head, upload a video of it, and nominate three more people to do the same within 24 hours. In only one month, over $100 million has been raised for ALS, a neurodegenerative disease many people had never heard of a few weeks ago.

The world has been caught by surprise at the speed of distribution, the uptake and the appeal of this somewhat absurd challenge. In the same way as Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake and planking, the ice-bucket challenge has gone viral, and celebrities and politicians are joining ordinary people in uploading over 14 million videos of themselves being soaked by icy water. My Facebook feed is clogged with videos of friends and family screaming as they get drenched – from young children to otherwise sensible grandparents.

So what can the church learn from these viral trends? Do these rapidly spreading social movements teach us some lessons that will shift the way we engage God’s people?

People want to join in.

It turns out, people don’t just want to sit around passively watching others – they want to be part of the action. They want to participate. The same is true in their spiritual lives – God’s people don’t want to be passive pew-sitters, they want to be co-workers and contributors in God’s mission. The ice-bucket challenge allows easy participation through an accessible formula – anyone can join in. We need to find ways to get God’s people involved in church, without having to have a theology degree.

People like a challenge.

Our churches have gone overboard trying to make people comfortable so they will stay and fill pews – but in the process, they have dumbed God’s people down. It’s ok to get people thinking, and problem-solving, and feeling awkward and uncomfortable in church. We learn more when we stretch ourselves than when we relax. Ask God’s people to step up rather than sit back – you’ll be surprised how they rise to the challenge.

People have great power to get things done.

Who would have thought a social media meme could raise $100 million in one month for a little-known cause? That’s what happens when you decentralise power and put it in the hands of the people. Think of how much more powerful the global church could be if we equipped every Jesus-follower to be a “little Jesus” in their neighbourhood and community. The church should spend her resources empowering God’s people rather than performing for them.

The ice-bucket challenge worked because ordinary people could get involved. Church leaders, stop positioning God’s people as passive spectators. Find creative ways to get them involved in your church gatherings, in teaching one another, in ministering in their communities. Give them a voice and an impact. Empower them to change the world.

7 thoughts on “What can churches learn from the ice-bucket challenge?

  1. I like the article all the way up to your conclusion paragraph. I think your conclusion to implement more man devised plans into the majorly flawed institutional church system would be futile.

  2. Pingback: Τι μπορούν να μάθουν οι εκκλησίες από τo ice-bucket challenge; | zoiagapis

  3. My response to this is mixed. My dominant thought is how fast bad things can happen through this sort of media. Having read some of the methods that are used for this research, it gives me some pause…embryos used. As much as this seems to be a happy happenstance from appearances, fun for all and lots of money raised, I have reservations about the long term benefit of this sort of fast paced almost universal response to a cause. Of course we can hope that the benefits here will prevail and be helpful to mankind.
    Applying that sort of methodology to spreading the Gospel seems counter intuitive to me. Just recently I am reading from a teaching I have not encountered before and experiencing inspiration and energizing in prayer; what I feel is increased understanding and just plain wonder at how this teaching makes so much of Scripture meaningful in ways that never occurred to me before. So many things I have completely overlooked as I read… just accepted assumptions. Of course I feel so compelled to share this with a friend who struggles with immense tribulation that one can only suggest as a solution: to pray. However, God is working in this friends life in very different ways than He is in mine and so often I notice that God takes so much time, creating specific hungers in me and what seems to me, to be preparation, for another step in understanding or wisdom. This friend of mine is receiving preparation for what God wants to show her next. Not necessarily the same thing. Although when I share this with a brother that brought it to me initially, there is understanding between us. I am reminded again of the analogy from Pagan Christianity…the train on the track and the group that is walking…that fast pace, agenda driven entity vs the slower walking entity that can go hither or wither at the leading of the Holy Spirit. With this as my perspective…after 71 years of life and 40 of those walking with the Lord…I view these manipulations of people’s emotions, intellect and behaviors as somewhat dangerous, something to be evaluated with much caution. Can be fun and perhaps beneficial in some realms. Enormous outreach is not something I find myself in sync with. I am certainly grateful for media…books etc. where I can find teaching and sharing. And the points you make are all valid,”… easy-participation, simple formula, and because it is accessible and fun and supports a compelling cause. Let’s look for ways to bring these elements into our churches and empower God’s people to change the world.” Enthusiasm is so powerful and maybe God will use different methods in these times to bring the young and new Christians into wisdom because there is such an urgency and because life is so fast paced…but in my experience the faster one can do something, the greater the potential for error and damage. Here are what I would offer as safeguards in equipping the saints: Look at the opportunities that are nearby, include all ages in your groups so that youthful enthusiasm is balanced with elder wisdom experience and elder experience is balanced with youthful exuberance; hierarchy (centralized power) is really hurtful to the kingdom causes. Let God lead you to what He would have you drink. Enjoy the brethren in comfortable, simple socialization, watch out for long term projects and goals that lock you into over organization. Watch out for debt. I hope the good in this phenomenon prevails.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Rita. I have changed the last paragraph to try to make my point clearer – I don’t want churches to copy the ice-bucket challenge or any of these passing fads, I just want them to realise people everywhere want to be involved and are capable of doing huge things when they are empowered and engaged.

      Thank you for your advice to the church,



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