Relational Capacity in Youth Ministries

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

Project Dates: 2012 – 2014

Principal Investigator: Dr. Justin L. Barrett

Student Researchers: Candance Coppinger-Pickett and Rebecca Burnside


Many organizations that serve youth recognize the importance of building personal relationships with young people in order to promote their thriving, but do these organizations have sustainable models for their staff? 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? No one know. While people generally don’t do it, some ministers do. This project has combined insights from research on youth ministry with evolutionary anthropology and psychology to explore youth ministers’ relationships and consequences for effective work with young people. We also examined field staff and volunteers’ relational network sizes, ministry outcomes, and their life and ministry satisfaction from three large ministries. This study also contributed to general scientific knowledge of human relationships and constraints on exercising love. Further, it has direct implications for ministries that rely on a relational model for doing ministry.

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