May 1, 2012

Relational Capacity and Ministry Performance

How does the number of personal relationships affect youth workers and ministries? Justin Barrett investigated.

Project Dates

May 2012—March 2015

Thrive Research Team

  • Justin L. Barrett, Principal Investigator
  • Cynthia Eriksson, Co-Project Leader
  • Candance Coppinger-Pickett, Student Researcher
  • Rebecca Burnside, Student Researcher

Funded By

This project was made possible through a generous grant by the John Templeton Foundation.

Project Overview

Many youth ministries and organizations 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 a person can effectively maintain. But what happens if this limit is exceeded? While people generally don’t do it, some ministers do. Do the relationships, minister, and ministry suffer as a result? This project sought to answer these questions.

This project has combined insights from research on youth ministries 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—Young Life, The Navigators, and Youth for Christ. 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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