The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer
by Jonathan McKee and Thomas McKee
Group Publishing, 2007
Volunteers…you just have to have them! But how do we get them? And for that matter what do we do with them once we have them? If you have spent any time in leadership in ministry you know how challenging recruiting, training and retaining volunteers can be. In The New Breed: Understanding & Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, father and son Jonathan and Thomas McKee set out to help church leaders extend their reach of ministry through the effective use of volunteers.
The McKee’s take a rather a-theological approach to volunteers. They focus on the pragmatic rather than laying out any substantive theological understanding of the place of volunteers in the life of the church. Perhaps in a brief work such as this, they merely assume a theological appreciation of volunteers on the part of their readers, though it would have been nice to have offered some form of discussion that would distinguish the role of the professional (though here Lutheran theology of the call likely would be out of step with a more broad based evangelical understanding of “pastor”) from that of their volunteers.
Despite being published by Group, the audience of this book is broader than the church. I have restricted my comments to a church related audience, but the authors focus more on a broad-based view of volunteerism that can be found in wide variety of organizations. This may have been an additional reason for the lack of a theological or biblical grounding, but giving this broader audience, its inclusion would have been more, not less, appropriate. Christian leaders leading non-Christian organizations would have greatly benefited from a biblical foundation for their work. It is not the church alone that needs to turn to Scripture for guidance.
The main thrust of The New Breed is the argument that our approach to working with volunteers must change because volunteers themselves have changed. Much can be overdone when it comes to distinguishing the nature and behavior of people as we move further into the 21st century. However, McKee and McKee make a strong case for a series of what they call seismic shifts and their impact on the nature and expectations of the volunteers we work with.
Family has changed with more moms working rather than staying home to raise children. (This is their weakest seismic shift as it is relatively old news and one needs to look back more than half a century to see their point). Our desire for community has changed. They point out that we are increasingly an individualized nation. This can be argued to have caused the third shift, in which volunteers demand more flexibility in their hours and method of volunteering. Placing volunteer time on the church calendar just does not cut it anymore. This is especially true, they point out, for a newly emerging generation of volunteers (they call them Gen@, yet another name for Gen Y, Millennials, iY, etc.) who are less formal, dislike meeting, and desire to be able to do their work when and where the inspiration strikes them. This generation and those older are increasingly technological and desire to be free to make use of the internet to create that flexibility. Finally, they point to an increase in knowledge-based volunteers as opposed to skill-based volunteers.
McKee and McKee argue that this more relationally oriented kind of volunteer is to be courted rather than recruited as has been done in the past. Rather than going all in from the start, they suggest giving potential volunteers a taste of your ministry. Then, as you get to know them more, guide them toward experiences in your ministry that best suit who they are. Here they really are on to something. Our culture is nothing if not obsessed with customization. We have moved away from mass production of products toward the ability to have a personalized version of just about everything. Increasingly, younger volunteers seem unable to understand how something might not be customized for them. Approaching volunteer recruitment as courtship can go a long way toward really knowing our volunteers and giving them a chance to shape how they serve.
Another strength of this book is the way in which the father and son writing team tag-team their chapter on the differences between the retiring boomers and the emerging Gen@. Noting the boomers have a tendency to view their volunteerism as merely volunteering for a particular role or task as opposed to Gen@ young people who tend more toward the adoption of a movement to which they identify in their approach to volunteering, helps savvy volunteer managers to match expectations with reality.
The structure of the book lays out their approach perfectly. When working with volunteers we need to be recruiters, managers and leaders. As recruiters we need to get to know our volunteers. As managers we need to care for our volunteers (they do a great job on this, especially arguing for an approach based on empowerment rather than delegation). As leaders we must have passion that can be focused into a vision. Through strategic thinking that vision is then used to mobilized our volunteer corp.
Using a case study, the authors leave the reader with a final set of diagnostic questions:
1. What’s our mission?
2. What’s our vision?
3. How am I building community?
4. How am I training my volunteer team?
Building a volunteer corps around the answers to these questions is the legacy that those who read and implement the practical strategies of this book will have as a foundation upon which to build their ministries, extending their vision and impact well beyond their own abilities and strength.