Kevin Negaard on Managing Resources, Time & Numbers in a Growing Church



Kevin_Negaard_podcastThank you so much for taking the time to listen in during this busy season. Today I’m honored to have Kevin Negaard with us.

Kevin is the executive director at Sunnybrook Community Church. Sunnybrook was started in the 1960s, but had a turnaround in the early 2000s and became almost a new church. Kevin never intended to work for the church and actually led the search committee for the next executive director. But then he realized he was being called to the job and had all of the experience they were looking for in a candidate. He has now been there for three years.

Sunnybrook is a very laid back church. As Kevin says, if you’re wearing a tie, they know you’re a visitor. He describes the church as practical, but biblically based.

Kevin is here today to talk with us about how we can manage our time and resources well among the church and the staff.

Be good stewards of your time. // Kevin came from a medical background, running a practice of orthopedic surgeons where everyone was constantly on the move. When he first came to work for Sunnybrook, Kevin took the time to just learn about the rest of the staff and how many hours they actually worked and what their weeks were like. Out of 17 people at the time, only one said they worked 40 hours – everyone else worked less than 40 hours. It’s important to have a good understanding of what your staff does and how they spend their time.

Get the actual details from the staff. // Don’t ever assume you know what your staff does and how much time they spend in their work. Get the actual details from the staff themselves. Have each staff member create a schedule that shows what they are doing and when they are doing it so that you can make the most of everyone’s time and get the best out of your staffing budget. This doesn’t have to be limited to hours in the office. It can also include hours at home studying, or being out meeting and ministering to people. Knowing the specifics helps immensely in informing you how best to use your resources and time.

“Ministry enhancement money.” // Sunnybrook has an expectation that their staff will work hard, but they also reward their staff for this work. Not unlike the business world, Sunnybrook will offer merit raises and bonuses when people have gone above and beyond. Another perk for the staff is what Sunnybrook calls “ministry enhancement money.” This is $100 a month in addition to a staff’s regular salary that can be used for anything that will help with their ministry, whether it is taking someone out, covering the cost of babysitting for a church event, or even buying a new cell phone. These little things are a way of saying “thank you” for a staff member’s hard work.

What are you doing in your ministry? // One way that Kevin helps keep his staff accountable and keeps himself in the loop is by meeting with them each week. He asks his staff to tell him what they are doing in their ministry. What have they changed since the last time they met? What are they doing to bring more people to Christ? Kevin encourages his staff to change up their ministry and try new things. Be constant tinkerers, he tells his staff. Spiritual development is important, but numbers are also an important part of ministry. Every number represents a life that is going to heaven or hell. Bringing in more people to Christ means that more souls are being saved, and so it’s vital to try new ways to bring those numbers in.

You can learn more about Sunnybrook Community Church at their website, SunnybrookChurch.org. Or you can contact Kevin by email at [email protected].

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Episode Highlights

00:42 // Rich introduces Kevin Negaard and welcomes him to the show.

01:06 // Kevin talks about his role at Sunnybrook Community Church.

02:09 // Kevin gives us a flavor of what to experience at the church.

03:28 // Kevin talks about his approach to his role.

05:19 // Kevin talks about how he makes the staff at Sunnybrook accountable.

06:34 // Kevin talks us through some of the changes he’s made and his expectations for the future.

08:27 // Kevin highlights the importance of having focus on the numbers together with spiritual development.

11:06 // Kevin gives examples of things they’ve implemented from the business world.

13:27 // Kevin talks about the expectations of the staff at Sunnybrook.

14:44 // Kevin highlights some of the results they’ve seen from increasing expectations.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Jon Gordon.  Mark Miller

Ministries Following // Willow Creek.  Jake Sullivan, Acts 2 Collective

Influential Book // Lead for God’s Sake by Todd Gongwer. The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton

Inspiring Leader // Mike Matheny

What does he do for fun // Run. Volunteer coach for college baseball.

Contact // [email protected]

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich, the host around these parts, so glad that you’ve decided to tune in today. I know that you’re busy this weekend, you’ve got a lot going on as we head into this weekend, I’m sure you’ve got a million things on your mind and we’re just honored that you would take some time out, to plug us into your ears as we like to say and listen in. So thank you so much for being here today.

I’m excited about today’s conversation, we’re with Kevin Negaard from Sunnybrook Community Church. This is a fantastic church, it started in the early ‘60’s but really had a significant turnaround, a significant change in the early 2000’s, it really became a brand new church at that point and is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. A fantastic church, super glad to have you on the show today Kevin.

Kevin – Thank you.

Rich – Yeah this is going to be a great time today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your role at Sunnybrook?

Kevin – Well I‘m the Executive Director of the church, I’ve been here about three and a half years. I really came from a medical community, so I wasn’t… I was involved in the church but not in a hiring way.

Rich – Yeah.

Kevin – I never wanted to work in the church, I was actually leading the search committee for the job I’m now doing.

Rich – Oh gosh. Oh I see how it works, I see how it works, Kevin.

Kevin – That’s exactly right and yeah, I did not want the job and the senior pastor came and said, “Hey I think you’re being called to this and we need you,” and I think mainly we had gone through ten years of kind of the transition and knew we were ready to take the next step. The previous administrators were great and their strength is probably financial and policies, my strength is more holding people accountable and being able to make some changes. So that’s kind of what they were looking for and thought I had the right skillset, so here I am and it’s been an incredible blessing.

Rich – Cool, now why don’t you tell us a little bit about Sunnybrook? Give us a sense of kind of the culture there. So if people were to walk into Sunnybrook this weekend what would they experience?

Kevin – They would experience a lot of blue jeans, if you’re wearing a tie we’d know you were a visitor. There is coffee all over the place. We are coming up, at Thanksgiving it will be a year in our new auditorium and there are cup holders on every seat. So that’s really who we are; incredibly welcoming, incredible worship for gospel teaching. We’re in a series called Shattered, about the hurts in life, it’s just so practical but biblically based. A ton of kids, little kids running all over the place, so plenty of energy, plenty of excitement, incredibly welcoming. We want to meet people where they are and then lead them down their path of growth, you know, spiritual development.

Rich – Very cool. Well I loved in your intro where you talked a little bit about, “Hey as Executive Director, one of my strengths is holding people accountable,” even in our early kind of friendship, you seem like such a friendly guy, a nice guy. We’d love to talk about that today because I think sometimes when people think about, “How do we be good stewards or manage our time and our resources well?” sometimes they can picture a person that’s like, “Gosh they’re kind of a killjoy,” which you’re definitely not that. So why don’t we talk a little bit about that today? In your role as Executive Director, how is it that you’re helping your team manage resources and your time and that sort of thing well?

Kevin – I keep going back to our $2.3 million budget, every penny is given to us, so we need to be incredibly good stewards of that financially.

Rich – Right.

Kevin – But so much of our budget is people, so we need to be incredibly good stewards of our time as well. So coming into this setting out of the business world, where I was in medicine and running a practice of orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons who are go, go, go and just, at times too much that way and trying to find their balance, but coming to the church I had no idea. So one of the first things I did was, just to the fulltime staff, “Tell me what you do, tell me how it works, tell me how your week works. Write out your hours,” and so and so forth, and I was surprised that the nine fulltime people at that point in time, one of them put down 40 hours, everybody else was less than 40 hours. So for me it was like, “Holy cow, there’s a disconnect here and we’ve got to figure this thing out.” That’s really where we started, “Where are you at and then what is our expectations?”

Rich – I love what you said there at the beginning, just to underline that a little bit. I think sometimes we can see staff cost, we manage the ‘googly eyes’ budget I like to call it, but a lot of times that’s really insignificant in comparison to the money we spend on staff, how we manage our staff time is significant. I know on the kind of googly eyes side of things, even just this week I was out with some of our staff, I took them out for lunch and people were like, “Oh thank you so much,” and I said, “Listen, don’t thank me, thank the good people who tithe here at our church, they are the ones who provided lunch today,” and we were able to do that and that was a blessing because of that, but then even more so, the time for us all to be away is significant. So starting with tracking, how did you actually do that? How did you kind of get a sense of what that looked like?

Kevin – Yeah, so I just said, “I have no idea what your job is, so what you’re doing or when you’re here and so on and so forth, so just write it down, tell me what your typical week is.” So it wasn’t me assuming, so when I could go back to them and say, “You’re working 38 hours?” They had completed that, it wasn’t me assuming or anything like that.

So I got that data and then really set the standards; here’s the deal, “If you’re fulltime here, you’re going to create a schedule, a seasonal schedule that’s 44 hours a week. Now on Sunday everybody’s going to worship one hour unless you’re tech or a senior pastor preaching, but if you’re in children’s ministry we expect you to get out of there and go to one of the services. So you can count hours that you’re at home studying, you can count hours that you meet people but you’re going to give me a schedule and I’m going to hold you accountable to that schedule and it’s incredibly important to me that, if you say you’re going to be here at 9 o’clock, you’re here at 9 o’clock. You’re setting your own schedule, so the only thing I’m asking of you is to do what you’ve told me you’re going to do.”

Rich – That’s powerful because you’re not coming at it from a, “Hey I’m telling you what to do,” you’re asking people to define ahead of time.

Kevin – Right.

Rich – How was that perceived by your folks?

Kevin – Well I think one of the things, we’re very fortunate, we’re financially blessed right now and so as we were increasing expectations we could increase benefits or little things within the culture to do that, because ultimately I want to get where I can recruit and retain anybody, it doesn’t matter what setting they are in, I’m going to be able to go out and get them and pay them close enough financially to what maybe they were making in the business world and then to be able to have a benefit package and everything else that will be able to retain them as well.

So as we were increasing expectations, we added some benefits. I think one of the early things we did is we just called it Ministry Enhancement Money; “I’m going to give you $100 a month above your salary and that is for cellphone, taking somebody out, do I have to get a new shirt because of whatever, I’ve got to get a babysitter in, I don’t want to hear any of that, this is $100, you don’t have to report it back to me.”

Rich – Interesting.

Kevin – It takes care of all of those incidentals that you could just get tied up in and time of, “Well should I do this, should I not do this?” and those arguments and we want our people’s time focused on ministry.

Rich – Now how did you ensure that people..? So one thing, I think the total hours thing, the thing I appreciate about you pushing that issue is, I think sometimes ministry leaders can oscillate between, it’s easy to oscillate between two sides of it, either there’s like workaholism, where it’s like you become so wrapped up in what you do, you define who you are, because there’s a little bit of a bottomless pit at the end of the day we’re trying to reach, a world that’s lost and it’s like, “Well when is that done?”

Kevin – Yeah.

Rich – It’s not done on Friday at 4 o’clock but on the other side, because there’s some flexibility in there, there can be a temptation to say, “You know what, I’m just going to come in an hour later this week,” and you do that over six weeks and before you know it you’re coming in at noon and things can get a little bit lapse. So it’s not just about filling hours, how did you ensure that people are filling those hours well, what did you do on that front?

Kevin – Well I think it is, I’d meet with the staff on a weekly basis and a lot of that is one on one and I’m constantly, I follow Jon Gordon and Mark Miller a lot and handing out things that they can do, some practical things but I think we are kind of a traditional church where we count on attendance but in other ministries it would be, you know, “We’re about spiritual development,” and I’m like, “No, we have to be about numbers because every number represents a life that’s going to heaven or hell.” So not that’s necessarily the only thing and we have to be incredibly concerned about spiritual development, but don’t get away from that because that’s a very good objective measure to say you’re doing it. So it’s not only the numbers but it’s, “What are you doing? Tell me what you’re doing in your ministry. What have you change?” So we tell our people, “You have to be constant tinkers, we do not want the same program year after year and really semester to semester. So tinker with it and I’m going to ask you what tinkers have you made, what changes have you made, what are you doing? Then you share that with me.”

So I think we’re looking at the production side as well, which for a lot of churches and student ministry guys they’re like, “Don’t tell me about numbers, it’s about spiritual development.”

Rich – Yes.

Kevin – It has to be both.

Rich – Right.

Kevin – But the numbers are the one objective thing and we have now gotten staff and it’s taken, for some, three years to understand the importance of it. Our student ministry, for the first time ever, when we started this ministry season, called every kid who came last year who wasn’t coming this year to find out, “Is there something going on in your life? Is it just too crazy, you’re in a new sport?” Whatever it may be, but we find out and you know what, a lot of those kids, over half they said, came back.

Rich – Interesting.

Kevin – Because someone reached out to them and some said, “I’m working now,” or whatever the case may be, but every one of those numbers is a person and we need to understand that.

Rich – Absolutely, I love what the folks at New Springs say, they say, “Every number has a name. Every name has a story. Every story matters to God,” and the reality of it is, is that obviously it’s not all just about the aggregate numbers. The thing I appreciate you doing is trying to rebalance some of that and say, “Hey you know what, we need to worry about those things,” for sure, that’s very cool.

Now what about, I’m sure there was some pushback? It sounds like everything is sunny, it’s Sunnybrook, but how did you deal with that, as a leader who’s trying to lead kind of a bit of change management in an area that can sometimes be perceived like, “Oh Kevin’s just a numbers guy,” how did you lead through that process?

Kevin – Well one is I was involved in their ministries, I’d come on a Wednesday night, I would ask them, I was involved in their lives, wanting to know that. So one of the things, you know, we’ve done a bunch of things I think, to see that human side. So we thought breaking bread together once a week was really important for staff and they thought about that for years and years but they could never get everybody to go because someone would pick an expensive restaurant, or whatever the case may be. So what we did was twice a month, we’re going every week, “Twice a month we’re giving you a $5 Chick-fil-A card, okay we’re going to Chick-fil-A. Now you can’t say, ‘I don’t have money,’ because for $2 you can get a meal there,” or whatever.

Rich – Yeah.

Kevin – That’s been very good. You said it earlier about the workaholic and this is who I am, I have a tendency that was a part of my life before. So we give everybody, “You get a half-day spiritual retreat, we give you $10 to get a Starbucks meal and go and get off your…”

Rich – How often is that? How often is that would you say?

Kevin – Once a month.

Rich – Once a month, that’s great.

Kevin – Once a month they get that. We go offsite for team retreats that are quarterly for sure, if not more. We have a nice continuing education budget for them. Like on St. Patrick’s Day, we handed out $100 bills to fulltime people, you know, give a little green.

Rich – Ah that’s why.

Kevin – So we’re constantly trying to do those little things like that, because again I think, we’re not looking for seminary people, that’s why when I got the email from you I was like, “Oh this is my guy.” We believe there’s some of that but for a lot of people, we want that incredible calling and for our children’s ministry guy who’s a very successful sales person, he met with me and said, “Hey I want to get into ministry sometime,” and I thought he could be our Children’s Ministry Director and he goes, “I love kids but I don’t want to roll around with kids,” and I’m like, “If you do, I’m going to fire you.”

Rich – Yes, exactly.

Kevin – “You are the CEO of this little business under this big entity.”

Rich – Yes.

Kevin – So you get bonuses in the business world based on merit and doing great things. So we’ve tried to implement a lot of those things along the way.

Rich – Very interesting. Well is there anything else, this has been interesting, is there anything else you want to share before we shift into the next part of the show?

Kevin – I just think you need to be really firm with your expectations and that was clear from the beginning. They hired me because of who I am and how we were going to hold people accountable and we were going to be fully employed. We are a hard working staff and that’s what I tell is, when we’re looking to hire. “This is who we are. I’m not saying it’s perfect but it’s helped us be able to grow and expand and I think God’s blessing us, but this is who we are. So don’t come in thinking, ‘Oh you’re going to soften me or you’re going to change this or not,’ that’s not going to happen, we’re going to be a hard working staff, we’re going to do things for people, we’re going to merit raisers, we’re going to do bonuses based on what you’re doing and we’re going to talk when the expectation isn’t being met. Because part of it may be, you’re getting burnt out or there’s something going on and we want to help with that. It’s not like we’re going to talk and you’re gone, we’re going to talk and find out what the cause is and then what we can do to help you.” Sometimes that help is moving onto another position at a different location.

Rich – Now through kind of increasing expectations what have the results been at the church, like from a growth point, have you been able to see like, as you invest more and focus more on these staff issues, have you been able to see that translate into life change and more connection as a church?

Kevin – Yeah absolutely. I think we were a very, probably a traditional church and we ran our ministry seasons the same as the school year seasons and I’m like, “That may be the dumbest thing in the world because that’s when kids are the busiest.” So we have now implemented, like on the one to two weeks of Christmas break. So for children’s ministry I said, “You know those kids are at home but there’s still a lot of moms and dads who are working, so they’re looking for something to do with their kids during that time.” So the two days before Christmas, this past year, we did a camp called Make and Take It and kids came in and made Christmas presents for their parents. It’s a three hour, it’s all morning, so the parents can drop them off and go to work or they can go shopping or whatever the case, we had 50 kids.

Then we ran Ninja Warrior camp and we had kids running throughout church, we had blowups, it was great.

Rich – Very cool.

Kevin – There was a hundred kids.

Rich – Wow that’s very cool.

Kevin – But if kids are available then why are we not providing opportunities at that point in time?

Rich – Right, very cool.

Kevin – We hired somebody to do the fulltime sports ministry, because parents will pay anything for their kids to go to camp. So let’s create all of these opportunities and camps that we’re teaching leadership points that may be Christian, it doesn’t have to be in your face Christianity but our leaders and the people, our guest speakers, are all coming from a faith based background and kids go home with a booklet of, here’s what they’re talking about, here’s the leadership points. So we’re very much, we can’t be this traditional, we’ve got to look at these other times and provide opportunities to touch people.



  1. […] This is what we want. How you get there is up to you. // Leaders who empower others focus on results — not activity — when they communicate with their teams. Rather than defining every step of how something needs to be done, they clearly define what the “win” is and let people figure out the best path there. Some leaders smother people with detailed step-by-step instructions on what needs to be done because they’re convinced they are the only ones who can do what needs to be done. Leaders who multiply understand that if others can get 60% of the “result,” they should hand over those things and move on to other aspects of the ministry. You need to let go of how things get done and define the output you’re looking for instead. If you give people a task list, they will become unmotivated and ultimately move on to other environments where they have more ability to define their own work. I love how Kevin Negaard uses numbers with his team to motivate results rather than just activity.  […]

  2. […] • This is what we want. How you get there is up to you. Leaders who empower others focus on results—not activity—when they communicate with their teams. Rather than defining every step of how something needs to be done, they clearly define what the “win” is and let people figure out the best path there. Some leaders smother people with detailed step-by-step instructions on what needs to be done because they’re convinced they are the only ones who can do what needs to be done. Leaders who multiply understand that if others can get 60 percent of the “result,” they should hand over those things and move on to other aspects of the ministry. You need to let go of how things get done and define the output you’re looking for instead. If you give people a task list, they will become unmotivated and ultimately move on to other environments where they have more ability to define their own work. I love how Kevin Negaard uses numbers with his team to motivate results rather than just activity.  […]

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.