Book Review: The New Breed by Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee

by Jason Barker

If you’ve spent any length of time serving in church ministry, you are familiar with these scenes. A youth pastor combines all the boys into one group again because he is unable to find someone willing to teach the middle school boys Sunday School class. The associate pastor finds himself along on a Saturday morning, looking at a pile of goods donated by the church for the homeless shelter, faced with the daunting task of loading up and trucking everything to the shelter by himself because, while people were happy to give, no one was willing to serve. The senior pastor takes the stage on Sunday and jokingly threatens to find a church member to preach so he can go help in the nursery next week if no one else will volunteer to do so.

Regardless of the size of your church, volunteers are its lifeblood – those willing to give of their time to use their spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. Unfortunately, volunteers are hard to come by. People are overwhelmed by other commitments. Some are already serving in more roles than they should. Others simply do not understand the implications of Ephesians 4:11-14.

Books on volunteers are plentiful, and while The New Breed by Jonathan and Thomas McKee covers much of the material found in other books, the authors understanding of the current context of life in the 21st century makes their application of the strategies uniquely helpful.

The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer

Jonathan McKee and Thomas McKee have tapped into their decades of experience with the simple goal of helping you recruit, manage, and lead the new breed of volunteers. They’ll guide you to a clearer understanding of what today’s volunteers look like, how they want to get involved, and how you can most effectively attract, train, and unleash them within your organization.

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Written with the insight of two seasoned leaders of volunteers, The New Breed provides a helpful profile of the modern-day prospective volunteer and then builds on that foundation. Techniques for recruiting, motivating, empowering volunteers are coupled with over 50 pages of helpful forms and resources, providing an invaluable guide for those looking to implement some or all of the items discussed.

Key Points of the Book

  1. Current trends in family life, community life, and work-life balance have greatly impacted the willingness and availability of people to volunteer: Simply put, today’s world is different than that of fifty years ago, yet many churches still design volunteer positions as though things were exactly the same. For the most part, gone are the days of single-income families, face-to-face relationship (As opposed to digital ones), and free evenings. They have been replaced by overpacked schedules and competing priorities, and unless churches can adjust their expectations and strategies, they will continue to find volunteers hard to come by.
  1. Today’s volunteers want to invest their limited time into something valuable, and they will not tolerate having their time wasted: As leaders, we should want to do more than have the slots on our team filled by people with a pulse who will get the work done. We are after people who are creative with an ownership mentality. That level of professionalism warrants our best efforts to create positions and work assignments that honor the people and what they bring to the table. We cannot do our work halfway and expect full results from them.
  1. Passionate volunteers are unstoppable: When we pair the right person with the right work and then create the right environment, we will be blown away by the results. Volunteers will bring passion with them. It is our responsibility to keep the flames burning.

Powerful Quotes From the Book

  • “In the 1980’s the rise of the knowledge worker not only changed the workplace; it also affected volunteer management . . . Knowledge workers want to be empowered. They want to volunteer, but they want to influence how the volunteer project should be accomplished. Many volunteers today are professionals and want to be treated like professionals.” (16)
  • “Short-term projects, however, not only open the doors to longer commitments, they also expose volunteers to your leadership. Always use one of your organization’s most effective leaders to lead your short-term project teams. Volunteers will have the opportunity to catch the vision of the organization as they work alongside a passionate leader.” (50)
  • “You might call motivation an inside job. Volunteers do things for their own reasons, not yours, so your role is to create an organizational culture that stimulates the inner motivation of each volunteer.” (93)
  • “Empowerment sounds wonderful on paper. But in reality, the unknown of empowerment can be stressful. If you’ve been burned when you’ve empowered a volunteer, chances are that you then overreacted and set up tight lines of control. We’ve all done it . . . the solution is to start all of your volunteers at the delegation-level and move them to the empowerment level as soon as you can trust them to be empowered.” (123)
  • “When you allow high-maintenance volunteers to slide by, active volunteers become discouraged because they have to pick up the load. Remember, the new breed of volunteers won’t tolerate incompetence or indifference from other volunteers . . . They’ll appreciate you for holding the standards high. (166)

Application in the Local Church

As a pastor of a small church or a home church, you may be unsure of where volunteers are needed, especially if you do not have a more traditional age-graded structure in place. Perhaps the best way to start is to look at the responsibilities you currently carry that are not in your wheelhouse. Are there any members of your church who excel in those areas? You may also start from the opposite direction: What are the people in your group passionate about, and can you find a place for them to apply that drive in your church? Whatever way you choose to start, remember that people want to serve at church. You simply have to help them find their place to serve.

Citation: McKee, Jonathan R., and Thomas W. McKee. The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer. 2nd ed. Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 2012. 272 Pages.

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(DMin, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) Jason is an experienced pastor and theological educator seeking to encourage and equip the next generation of church planters. Jason serves at Colorado Christian University and consults with a variety of church leadership organizations. He and his wife live in Southern California with their four children.

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