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6 Insights From the #IceBucketChallenge for Church Communications

In case you’ve been asleep for the last two weeks … here is Wikipedia’s description of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

The Ice Bucket Challenge, sometimes called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is an activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on one’s head or donating to the ALS Association in the United States. It went viral throughout social media during the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2014.

The challenge dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads. A common stipulation is that nominated people have 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation. [source]

Every once in a while, a craze hits social media that transcends the boundaries of the Internet and really does go culturally viral. The #ALSIceBucketChallenge is an example of that. I’ve found it fascinating to watch it gain and sustain cultural momentum. There are a handful of lessons I think we should draw from this for our work in church communications.

  • Cause + Fun = Win. It’s fun to watch … there something about the anticipation of knowing that the person is going to get a bucket of cold water on their head that is so funny. It reminds me of the same anticipation of last year’s “Harlem Shake” viral phenomena. But this is tied to a great cause, which gives it sticking power outside of just being funny. How are we using fun in our communications to move people to connect with the causes that are important to us … even serious causes?
  • Everyone Plays! There is no central committee organizing this thing. Some people are just doing the funny video and not donating … but even those people are aiding the cause because it’s building more momentum in their social networks. (online and offline.) It’s open, messy and a bit chaotic. This is how networks work. How can we encourage a more open structure in the way we do church communications that would encourage our people to carry the messages we want to send?
  • People Know How to Post Video Online. I’ve been a bit shocked at some of the people that have figured out how to record and post a video online for this effort. Clearly the tools have become so easy that even the most novice user can utilize them. This is a huge opportunity for us. How can we leverage the ubiquity and utility of these video posting tools for our ministry?
  • Simplicity and Urgency of Action. The challenge is so simple … dump a bucket of ice water on your head, challenge three people to do the same thing, and let them know they have 24 hours to respond. Easy to understand and the call the action moves people to respond. The urgency is fabricated, but it still moves people to make a decision. Are we being clear enough in the asks to our people? How are we using urgency to move people to action?
  • Hashtags. The #hashtag continues to move toward universal acceptance in our culture. This campaign uses easy to understand hashtags and employs them well across multiple platforms. Hashtags are an important tool for self-organizing social movements like this because they allow people to discover content from other people they don’t directly know. How are you incorporating #hashtags in your communications strategy?
  • Self-Deprecating Humor. Nobody looks cool getting a bunch of water dumped on their head. You just look goofy. It’s refreshing to see so many people joining in this sort of humor … rather than making fun of someone else. People are attracted to leaders who don’t take themselves too seriously. Do we take ourselves too serious for our own good?

What about you? What have you thought about this particular campaign? I’d love to hear your thoughts!  

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Rich serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. He blogs at UnSeminary.com and is a sought after speaker and consultant on multisite, pastoral productivity and communications.