10 Ways to Deal with Sacred Cows in Your Church

I was surprised to learn that both my friend, Thom Rainer, and I dealt with sacred cows in our blog posts yesterday. Apparently, this issue is an important one. Here are some options for dealing with a sacred cow:

  1. Affirm it. Actually, others may recognize a sacred cow before you do if you’re directly connected with it. You may, in fact, be part of the problem.
  2. Ignore it. This may be the easiest option, since a “sacred cow” by definition is already entrenched in the church—and may well have been around long before you came to the church. Just ignore it and hope it will disappear.
  3. Idolize it. What I mean by “idolizing” a sacred cow may surprise you: it’s being so frustrated by it that you allow it to dominate your thinking and your attitude. It becomes your God if you can’t give it to God.   
  4. Pray about it. Because emotion and tradition usually mark sacred cows, it’s wise to seek God’s direction in dealing with one. Ask Him to help you understand the wisest approach to follow. He might even take care of it in an unexpected way.
  5. Challenge it. To challenge a sacred cow is to give its leaders one more opportunity to prove its value. This option offers both time for leaders to make a difference and time for you to plan for the gentle death of a sacred cow if necessary.
  6. Murder it. By “murder,” I mean killing a sacred cow unexpectedly and violently, without regard for somebody else’s wellbeing. That’s what happens when we put a sacred cow to death and do it without respect for the members whose hearts are connected to it.
  7. Let it die a natural death. Even sacred cows need to be fed in order to survive. If no new dollars or personnel are dedicated to a sacred cow, it will likely die on its own. It may not die as quickly as you like, but it will not last forever.
  8. Change its leader. This suggestion is directly related to #9 below, especially if the sacred cow is a program. My experience is that it’s people who make the cow sacred by refusing to change it or give it up. A new leader can bring new life and relevance to that same program. 
  9. Redeem it. Sometimes a sacred cow started out as a vital part of the church, and its purpose is still critical to the congregation’s life. What makes it “sacred” are things like the time and place it meets, the dollars devoted to it, the energy given to protect it, etc. These things are changeable, though, if the purpose is still important. If you redeem it, it’s no longer a sacred cow.
  10. Replace it. The original sacred cow probably met some need. If that sacred cow is not redeemable, perhaps there’s another strategy/program that will better meet that same need. Sometimes, a church will let go of a sacred cow when they see a much better alternative (though, be careful not to allow the replacement to become the next sacred cow).

What other ways of dealing with sacred cows would you add to this list?


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