The New Breed of Youth Volunteer

The New Breed of Youth Volunteer
Jonathan McKee

In the last 20 years, we’ve observed six seismic shifts that have shaken the world of volunteer leadership and have catalyzed a new breed of volunteer.

Seismic Shift 1:

Family Dynamics: From Father Knows Best to Gilmore Girls

In 1954, TV painted a picture of the “ideal” American home with a new show, Father Knows Best. Fast-forward to the new millennium. The nuclear family has shriveled, and Father Knows Best has segued to Gilmore Girls, a drama about a thirty-something single mother and her teen daughter. Think about how this cultural shift in families affects the new breed of youth volunteer.

In the early 20th century, many volunteers were stay-at-home mothers or retired people. By the 1990s, the percentage of families headed by a married couple dropped to 53 percent, according to a U.S. census report.

Seismic Shift 2:

Isolation: From Community to Individualism

Americans today have fewer close friends than their parents did. Despite the popularity of social networking websites and the constant desire of teenagers to “hang out with friends,” Americans overall are choosing a smaller number of close relationships.

Despite social isolation, volunteering is actually on the rise! With the September 11 attacks, and then Hurricane Katrina four years later, Americans significantly increased volunteer involvement in their communities. In other words, the place where you’ll find volunteers is changing. Twenty years ago, organizations recruited the vast majority of volunteers through local networks of religious and civic associations. The rate of volunteering among people who never attend church or a civic organization has nearly tripled in the last 20 years. People aren’t volunteering to be part of groups, they’re volunteering as individuals.

Seismic Shift 3:

Flexibility: From Rigid Scheduling to Volunteer Availability

One factor that contributes to a greater number of volunteers is a willingness to be flexible. In fact, many volunteers today demand it.

Kim, a 35-year-old volunteer, is used to “high-tech” and doesn’t want to waste her time sitting in boring meetings. She says, “E-mail me what you want me to do, and I’ll get it done.”

Sally, a new board member at her church, is retired. She and her husband travel a great deal. At the first meeting, she shared that she wouldn’t make the training retreat. While the pastor wanted her resignation, because he felt the training retreat was essential for all board members, Sally held her ground. She got the training material in advance, listened to tapes of the sessions, and caught up on her own.

Anthony, a 20-year-old college student, volunteers for his church’s youth group. His school, work, and personal life monopolize most of his weeknights. But that doesn’t stop Anthony from acting as the Web Master for the youth group website. Anthony made the youth pastor a simple deal: “Anything you e-mail me by Wednesday at midnight will be up no later than Saturday night at midnight.” The youth pastor gains a reliable volunteer because he flexes to Anthony’s bizarre hours.

Seismic Shift 4:

Generations: From Experienced Veterans to Novice Gen @

The 21st century has introduced a whole new set of volunteers, the generation that many call Generation Next and we call “Generation @.” Many volunteer recruiters and managers ignore these potential volunteers, but they’re making a huge mistake.

Generation @ is an interesting breed. They’ll answer their cell phones in the middle of meetings or lunch appointments. Almost a third of them have a body piercing somewhere other than their ears. They prefer texting to talking on the phone. But these teenagers and early 20-somethings-raised on e-mail, chatting, and video games-willingly volunteer if they think they can make a difference.

Seismic Shift 5:

Technology From Face-to-Face to Cyberspace

One of the most dramatic developments greatly influencing volunteer leadership is the internet. It opens the door to entire new avenues of volunteering that cross all geographical borders. We can use this practical tool to enhance our existing volunteer program, and we can now recruit a new type of volunteer that never existed before-the virtual volunteer.

Seismic Shift 6:

Professionalism: From Skilled Workers to Knowledge Workers

Today’s knowledge worker is someone who wants to make decisions. Knowledge workers want to be empowered. They want to volunteer, but they want to influence how the project should be accomplished. Many volunteers today are professionals and want to be treated as such.

These seismic shifts together represent the biggest change in volunteering in the 21st century. Simply put, the new breed of volunteer drives the program. The new breed of volunteer wants to call the shots. These volunteers want to be asked what they see as the needs in the church and how they can help accomplish the mission. They have a passion for the cause, but they can’t always fit into the old mold or organizational pattern. The old system worked well with stay-at-home moms and retired senior adults. But the new system needs to be more flexible and able to customize jobs for the volunteer.

Adapted from The New Breed: Understanding & Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer.

The article “The New Breed of Youth Volunteer” written by Jonathan McKee was excerpted from web site, March 2010.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”