Relational Capacity and Ministry Performance: Consequences of the Evolved Social Brain

Project Lead: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Thrive Researchers: Dr. Cynthia Eriksson
Thrive Center Staff: Rebecca Sok
Doctoral Student Researchers: Candance Coppinger Pickett, Rebecca Burnside
Project Dates:
May 1, 2012 – October 31, 2014
Funded By:
 The John Templeton Foundation at $221,189

How do interpersonal relationships impact the effectiveness of one’s ministry? Is there a limit to the amount of relationships one can manage? If there is, what is that limit and what are the effects of extending beyond it?

Many ministries place loving relationships at their core. Relationship numbers are constrained by what might be termed ‘relational capacity.’ Evolutionary psychology suggests limits to the number of personal, loving relationships. But what happens if this limit is exceeded? We don’t know. People generally don’t do it, but some ministers do. Do the relationships, the minister, and the ministry suffer? This 35-month project seeks answers.

Ministry staff members often exceed the relational capacity limit, potentially rendering them ineffective ministers. They deliberately try to add more relationships and view it as their obligation to do so. Volunteers are more likely to be within the relational limit. Perhaps this difference accounts for Barrett’s analyses of field data that showed adding volunteers but not staff to an area increased ministry outcomes. We will examine field staff and volunteers’ relational network sizes, ministry outcomes, and their life and ministry satisfaction from three large ministries.

This study seeks to contribute to the general scientific knowledge of human relationships and constraints on exercising love. Further, it will have direct implications for ministries that rely on a relational model for doing ministry.