Years ago I read an excellent book titled “Sacred Cows Make Gormet Burgers.” A catchy title and a good read as well. Here Chuck Lawless shares five ways to deal with sacred Cows in the church you are part of.

What follows was orginally posted by Chuck Lawless.


Most churches have them. “Sacred cows,” that is – those traditions, programs, etc., that no one would dare criticize or change because they’re engrained in the institution. Here, though, are some options for dealing with a sacred cow in your church:

Protect it. This may be the easiest option, since a “sacred cow” by definition is already entrenched in the church. You usually don’t have to do much to protect it. Others will do that task for you.

EXAMPLE: Leave something in place as is even though it’s draining the budget, consuming volunteer energy, and producing little lasting fruit.

Murder it. By “murder,” I mean killing it unexpectedly and violently, without regard for somebody else’s well being. 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.

EXAMPLE: Simply announce that you are ending a traditional, well-established musical tradition without notifying participants or considering other options.

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.

EXAMPLES: Decrease funding each year to a declining program. No longer direct guests toward a small group that has become inwardly focused and dysfunctional. Give no energy to resurrecting a dying Sunday night service.  

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.

EXAMPLES: Change a worship time by taking the time necessary to show the value of the change. Modify the curriculum in a program that has lost its focus. Find a new way to reach a neighborhood if door-to-door evangelism is no longer working. Use volunteers to clean the church cemetery rather than depleting the budget for outside services.  

Change the leadership. This suggestion is directly related to #4 above, 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. Sometimes a new leader, though, can bring new life and relevance to that same program.