Galindo, The Hidden Lives of Congregations


Israel Galindo, The Hidden Lives of Congregations: Discerning Church Dynamics. Alban Institute, 2004.

Referenced in: Summary

One might call this book “Congregations 101,” or “The Primer on What Makes Churches Tick,” or “Congregational Dynamics Through the Lens of Emotional Systems.” Regardless of one’s approach to congregational renewal, some dynamics are universal. Each congregation struggles with its place in the continuum between the ideal and the reality. Each congregation has a tendency to drift into institutional maintenance and must periodically renew its focus on mission. Each congregation organizes itself in ways that are both productive and unproductive. Each congregation is at a certain stage in its lifespan and must engage the developmental tasks of that stage. Each congregation is a certain size, and bears the common characteristics and assumptions of faith communities of that size. Each congregation has its own spirituality, and passes on in the maturation of its members the strengths and weaknesses of that way of engaging the journey with God. Each congregation has its own identity, and perpetuates it from generation to generation. Each congregation is led by someone(s), and while the methods of leadership may differ between faith communities, the core of what constitutes effective leadership is fairly universal. In my opinion, no one exceeds Galindo in presenting a comprehensive picture of how all of these dynamics and more play into the relationships and tasks of congregational leadership.

One of Galindo’s strengths is that he integrates the field of emotional systems into every aspect of congregational life. This volume demonstrates how one who is informed by systems will view and influence four “hidden” dimensions of congregational life - lifespan, size, spiritual styles, and identity. Part 3 of the book presents an excellent application of emotional systems on redefining the functions of congregational leadership, leading from self, and maintaining the most productive areas of focus. A set of helpful appendices offers a few simple assessment tools to help congregations understand their own landscape with regard to dynamics such as life stage, church size, staff, staff tenure, rate and type of growth, processes, spirituality, stance, style, preferred biblical metaphors and images, vision and values, etc.

If one is involved in planning, I recommend this as part of a three-piece prequel to the planning process, alongside Sarah Drummond’s Holy Clarity, and Bud Wrenn’s Innovating Planning. Planning, in some form and at some level, is necessary work, but it is also complex work. To do it well, and to experience lasting transformation from the ongoing process, one must know why planning is important with Holy Clarity, understand the nature of congregational systems with The Hidden Lives, and integrate all the pieces of the planning process with Innovative Planning.

Readers may also be interested in Galindo’s resourceful website, and his helpful essays:

Special thanks to Dr. Galindo for his permission to make the above articles available on Many of these articles are available in the book, Perspectives on Congregational Leadership: Applying Systems Thinking for Effective Leadership.

See also, Galindo, Israel, Elaine Boomer, and Don Reagan. A Family Genogram Workbook: . Alban Institute, 2004 - This is a brief, 68-page step-by-step guide to creating one’s own family genogram that also presents insight on how to interpret and use it. It also introduces the basic concepts of family systems theory, along with a very helpful list of “Twenty Questions to Ask About Your Family.”

From the Publisher

Faced with crisis, lack of direction, or just plain “stuckness,” many congregations and their leaders are content to deal only with surface issues and symptoms—only to discover that the same problems keep recurring, often in different, and more serious, ways. In The Hidden Lives of Congregations, Christian educator and consultant Israel Galindo takes leaders below the surface of congregational life to provide a comprehensive, holistic look at the corporate nature of church relationships and the invisible dynamics at play.

Informed by family systems theory and grounded in a wide-ranging ecclesiological understanding, Galindo unpacks clearly the factors of congregational lifespan, size, spirituality, and identity and shows how these work together to form the congregation’s hidden life. He provides useful tools for diagnosing and understanding how one’s congregation fits into the various categories he names and suggests what leadership skills are necessary to get beyond the impasse of surface issues and help the congregation achieve its mission.

The Hidden Lives of Congregations provides one of the most far-reaching looks into the invisible nature of faith communities written in recent years. For seminaries and divinity schools, it provides a standard text for getting a solid start in congregational practices; for experienced pastors, it provides support for renewing ministry; for lay leaders and committees, it offers insight to deepening mutual ministry. Galindo has written an indispensable manual that leaders will return to repeatedly for new wisdom and guidance on the unseen mechanisms that drive congregational life.

About the Author

Israel Galindo is a professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Virginia. He also serves as faculty for Leadership in Ministry Workshops (, a clergy leadership training program, and is executive director of Educational Consultants ( He is the author of several books and is a frequent seminar and workshop leader.

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