10 Ways to Recognize a Sacred Cow in Your Church

We often use the term “sacred cow” to describe something in a church that no one will criticize and is not likely to change. With this post, I want to accomplish two things: (1) further define “sacred cow” so we can recognize them, and (2) lead you to ask if your church has any sacred cows – including ministries you may lead.  In a future post, I’ll give attention to how to address these issues. 

Here are some ways to recognize sacred cows. 

  1. They’re usually associated with a particular person or persons in the church. If you talk about the sacred cow, everybody knows who you’re talking about even if you don’t name them. In fact, many people seem to be afraid to name them . . . .  
  2. They’re often in decline. The program isn’t growing. It’s making little difference in the outreach of the church, but the church keeps doing it anyway.  
  3. Nobody is willing to be the first to say, “We need to stop doing that.” A lot of people think that way, but nobody sticks his or her neck out to push for change.  
  4. Their greatest influence is usually past tense. It may have been a great idea or program years ago, but the world has changed since then. It no longer carries the weight it used to carry.  
  5. They’re often costly, but with few dividends. That’s not always the case, but some sacred cow programs still cost a lot of money to produce – even while their influence is waning.  
  6. If you change them, some people will threaten to leave the church. The people may or may not leave, but sacred cows almost always have great emotion attached to them. Change them, and somebody will holler.   
  7. They’re not essential to the gospel, though they’re treated that way. The gospel will still be central in the church if the sacred cow is gone, but some people genuinely believe the church will lose their focus if that happens.  
  8. You’re not the first person who thought about trying to remove it. Other church leaders have considered it in the past, but something kept them from taking that step. Most of the time, that “something” is a power player in the church.  
  9. People talk about them behind the scenes. Many in the church know they’re not the best expenditure of time and energy. It’s just easier, though, to talk about them than it is to change them.   
  10. Few people have really prayed about them. My point here is that we too often want a sacred cow to disappear, but we haven’t much sought God’s help in the matter. Perhaps He’ll have a way of removing it – or even redeeming it – in a way we had not considered.   

What other characteristics would you add to this list?

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