Relational Capacity and Ministry Effectiveness: Evaluating Dunbar’s Number in the Context of Youth Ministries

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Previous research by Robin Dunbar establishes 147 (commonly rounded to 150) people as the typical limit on the number of active, personal relationships one can maintain cognitively and emotionally. Considering that relational ministers work with the purpose of building close, personal relationships to carry out ministry goals, it was expected that their network sizes would be related to ministry effectiveness. Participants were 154 actively serving youth pastors. Dunbar’s methodology was used to determine social network structure. Objective measures (growth and salvations) and a subjective measure (youth pastor evaluation of the church and ministry) were used to index ministry effectiveness. Youth group budget was used as a covariate in the analyses. The Professional Quality of Life scale (ProQOL) was also analyzed as an outcome variable to determine burnout and stress. Multiple regressions were used to determine the nature of each relationship. It was found that youth pastors have unusually structured social network circles and that exceeding the upper limits of relational capacity did seem to negatively impact ministry effectiveness in some areas. Youth group growth and the number of salvations were negatively impacted by network size and larger numbers of ministry and organizationally related relationships. Budget was the primary predictor for perceived effectiveness. Secondary Traumatic Stress was also predicted by network size and relationship demands.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

First Advisor

Barrett, Justin L.

Document Type





Church work with youth, Protestant churches, Social interaction, Social networks




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