Covid-19 Resources

The Trends of a Pandemic | A Culture Journal For Youth Workers

Tim Balow
March 16th, 2020

In the last couple of weeks, many youth workers were faced with situations and decisions that they don’t teach you about in seminary. “What Do To Do If There’s A Global Health Pandemic” wasn’t part of the syllabus for your ministry leadership course.

This is just another chapter in the “adapt and overcome” mentality with the evolving expectations for leaders to discern action for the health and growth of their ministry environments.

Covid-19 (culturally known as the “coronavirus”) first gained attention in December 2019 originating in Wuhan, China. As understanding and research in the virus strain grew, it became apparent to well-established health institutions such at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that this was going to become a growing problem. In March 2020, the WHO declared the spread of Covid-19 a global pandemic.

We all could provide our own insight into the cultural underpinnings as we watched and led our communities through a very unique time period. After watching hours of news, following comments on social media, reading world class journalism on the pandemic, and executing major actions on behalf of my job and protecting my family, there’s been some specific culture trends that have risen to the surface during the pandemic.

As the title of this post suggests, this “cultural journal for youth workers” provides helpful trend realities to help them understand our undergirding culture we seek to minister in and through our churches and organizations.

The Necessity for Clear and Direct Communication

Amidst all of the levels of communication, there has been an abundance of misinformation surrounding evolving realities of the pandemic. Clear and direct communication means defining reality in ways that are contextually relevant to an audience. We all have our examples where misunderstandings, rumors, and premature communication requiring additional follow-up, and breached trust between levels of our society.

Communication through all the levels of relationships (families, businesses, churches, governments, etc.) is the backbone of managing expectation, easing escalation, and motivating healthy action.

In the absence of a clear and direct communication storyline about the external realities, people make up there own stories about what they see. As we all can imagine, the stories people make up in the absence of direct and clear definition of reality may be quite far from reality.

The Expectation of Escalated Underlying Emotion (EUE)

With many unknowns, people early on were tangible fearful and confused. The psychology of a pandemic escalate emotions related to isolation, fear, confusion, and anger. In other words, pandemics unearth EUE, the triggered underlying emotions that we can be unaware of in ourselves. We all respond differently in crisis/trauma (think fight, flight, freeze, or fawn reactions to trauma and crisis), but without proper knowledge and awareness of our EUE, we fall prey to desperate attempts to control situations, or even more apparent, falsely prepare for a future that is on the extreme (see Toilet Paper Crisis of the Covid-19 Pandemic).

The communication trend above is the direct counter to embracing EUE and redirecting it towards action, instead of allowing people to stew in their own escalating emotion. Another example of this would be in frustration and anger to purposes behind closing/cancelling certain activities or institutions (school, church, etc.). Sometimes the anger and frustration isn’t directed at the actual purpose for why something happened, it’s more just triggered emotion that’s already been there. The practice that this connects this tension is empathy. Empathy connects with emotions, not the experience of what is happening.

People are Holistically Linked To One Another

We can all do our part, but regardless, our communities, homes, families, businesses, and churches are interlinked by our movement as people. We all heard the phrase “flatten the curve” early on in the pandemic declaration, meaning how do we limit the possible exposure of people through all the different possible levels of society, and how we do maintain a level of health surrounding those places. This has become a refreshed reality for many people.

To look at it another way, this has been a newfound realization with all the places that our hands could possibly touch. Steering wheels, countertops, door handles, faces, other people’s hands are all linked by touch. Doesn’t this provide a metaphor for how interlinked all aspects of life ultimately are for both our flourishing? We flourish in healthy connection with each other in every layer of relationship.

This was best displayed in the level of communication that was shared relating to cancellations (such as church services) as “protecting the vulnerable”. We can all do our part together when we set aside our own understandings about what we can or can’t do and embrace that we are here in the world interconnected with many layers of relationship around us.

Digital Spaces Are Alternates, Not Replacements For Connection and Community

20 years ago, digital spaces were very limited. The opportunity to learn online or stream your church service was so minimal, it wasn’t even really an option. 10 years ago, church leaders and seminaries were evaluating if the future of the church was to find it’s locus in the digital space. The pandemic of 2020 shows us that the digital space is a dynamic alternative to real life connection and community, but not a long-term replacement.

Churches across the country cancelled in-person services, but they virtually all have placed timelines as to how long it will last for in-person services to be only in the digital space. This is significant for what people expect. Most people that have been going to church in person, expect to go back to church in person.

In a similar sentiment, the message of “the church is not a building” also translates to “the church is not a livestream”.

Culture Is Looking For Relief and Grace

Humor. Financial. Food. Taxes. It doesn’t matter. In the midst of this pandemic, the culture is hungry for relief of any kind of give them a sense of space to be able to anticipate the changes to life as they know it. It’s been abundantly clear that businesses were looking to capitalize on this with their marketing in free monthly subscriptions to products for a short time, free shipping for e-commerce, and even schools continuing breakfast/lunch programs even if classes are cancelled.

Many people tried to find some sentiment of humor in all of this, including posting videos of people getting excited at watching bowling now that major sports are postponed or cancelled. There can be a slight sense of relief that comes when we can find at least some mild humor even in the midst of a very serious situation.

It’s amazing how little things can make a big difference. Even if they are just memes 🙂

Security and Certainty Is At Premium

In times of chaos, as shared above the EUE (Escalated Underlying Emotion) of people is triggered and people immediately long for security and certainty. In the immediate days, several people took to social media to show their anger towards leaders and communities for not acting sooner, and really at the heart of it was a desire for someone to show that there can be some confidence in security and certainty, even in the midst of life’s disruption. On another level, the hoarding and excessive purchasing of groceries and home products could have been seen as finding a grip on security and certainty.

We as youth workers and church leaders need to be aware of this, and not give into false hopes and pithy theological statements. We can communicate the real presence of God with us in Jesus, and uniting people in love for each other and hope for an abundant life with God and others. We can promote God’s relation-restoring love with people in the way that we model and live healthy lives and lifestyles.

More could be said, and we at the YS Blog are committed to gleaning insights from youth workers across the country, especially as timely events unfold that will prove to be valuable teaching opportunities for us to grow together. Each one of these trends have illustrate GLARING ministry opportunities for us in relationship and understanding the world around us. May we glean from insights, embrace our role as leaders to help people move beyond themselves, and opportunities for serving people in the name of Jesus so they might know deeper hope and wholeness in Christ.

What culture trends are you seeing rise to the surface? What’s been surprising to you as you’ve lead in your communities and talked with people about what they’ve been experiencing?

Tim Balow

TIm Balow is has served in a variety of youth worker roles between Chicago and Minneapolis over the last 10 years. Tim currently serves with Youth Specialties working on projects focused on customer and content operations. Tim's passion is to serve the under-resourced youth worker and to encourage the next generation of students to step into a transformative relationship with Jesus.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.