15 Common Sacred Cows in Churches

They are usually called sacred cows.

Sometimes they are called idols. Though the sacred cow terminology has its origins in Hinduism, it is commonly used in churches to describe those facets of church life that are given undue (and sometimes unbiblical) respect to the point they cannot be changed.

To the delight of some and to the chagrin of others, I conducted an informal social media poll to find out what the audience deemed the most common sacred cows in their churches. The answers were voluminous. Some of the conversations were hilarious. Some people just got mad. Imagine that.

Here are the top 15 responses by frequency. Again, keep in mind this survey was an informal poll on social media.

  1. The parlor. Thou shalt not enter, touch, or change. Only the parlor elect may enter. Parlors typically have an occupancy rate of less than one percent. Parlorolatry is one of the signs of a church that will soon die (see my book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, chapter 11).
  2. The organ. I’m a bit surprised this issue is still around. But it is. And there are some pretty strong feelings about this instrument.
  3. Politics. A number of respondents said many of their church members equate a certain brand of politics (all along the political spectrum) with biblical truth, a truth that must be declared in the pulpit and elsewhere.
  4. Order of worship. Thou shalt not move the offertory to another part of the service. The Apostle Paul instructed us exactly where it should be.
  5. The building. Yes, this response is a general observation. But many respondents simply said “the building” was the church’s sacred cow. Perhaps I can dig deeper in the future.
  6. Flowers in the worship center. Both fake and real. Both clean and dusty. Often allergenic.
  7. Music/worship style. The worship wars have diminished, but they are far from over.
  8. Sunday evening services. An oldie that has been around awhile. Obviously, it’s still a point of contention in many churches.
  9. Pews. Single chairs are the instruments of darkness.
  10. Attire. I’ve opened this can of worms in the past. I might take another shot at it in the future. Bias alert: I despise ties.
  11. Committees. For God so loved the world he did not send a committee. Many of those who responded particularly focused on the number of committees and their failure to have a clear purpose.
  12. Cemeteries. Typically an issue with older churches. Most church building programs today don’t include land for cemeteries.
  13. Choir robes. Probably need them to cover up some of the problems in number 10.
  14. Previous pastor. The pastor of 25 years ago walked this earth as a near perfect person. The church members have no memory of anything this pastor did wrong. They hold to the inerrancy of the former pastor.
  15. White tablecloths over the elements for the Lord’s Supper/Communion. Didn’t see this one coming

Does your church have any sacred cows? Feel free to contribute to the conversation!

Posted on August 27, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Scott Connelly says on

    The 2 chairs on the stage. Literally a business meeting was called for when they were moved off the stage.

  • Iconoclast: someone whose Divine Mission in life is making hamburger out of sacred cows.

    It is a burdensome service, especially when He goes after those raised in your own backyard rather than all the imports from other yards. I find it truly disturbing. I mean, really? Listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit to take the log out of my own eye first? Srsly?
    Not sure which is worse: the imports I paid top dollar for or the ones I rustled.


  • Leon Dressel says on

    Going through the pain of killing sacred cows – flags, pictures, pews(in perfect condition), plaques, removing “Baptist” from church name, modifying “the Lord’s Supper”, moving pulpit and communion table, etc. All of which evolved over 115 years by hard working, well meaning Christians – but the neighborhood changed and the church did not and radical surgery seems required. The interior will be changed to a more open multi use facility and remove the churchy appearance.

    It is particularly hard to understand the aversion to classic hymns which not only contain a Christian message but have pleasant music with or without the lyrics. If the audience is expected to participate, the audio-visual contemporary program needs to be carefully planned-which in our case has not happened-yet.

  • I was one of the people who said the organ. It is not played every Sunday, but there would be trouble if we had it removed. I had one lady try to convince me that the organ has been around since before Noah’s flood.

  • As the wife of a worship pastor, I can testify to the fact that the worship wars are definitely not over! Historically speaking though, some variant of worship war has been pretty much ongoing for more than 1500 years, and like the poor will probably (unfortunately) always be with us. People being people, we too often place our own comfort above the salvation of the people in the community around us, so I’m sure some variation of the other sacred cows have been around for millennia as well. I’m just thankful God has moved us to where we currently are, since our last church had a whole herd of sacred cows. This one has a few, but there’s less likelihood of a stampede. 😀

  • It’s taken me 42 years,but I am now wearing”normal”clothes for midweek service. I even (gasp!) wear my shirtail out. I still wear a tie on Sunday though because,well, because I love brightly colored ties and I have a closet full of them. Besides,I want to wear them all before I depart this mortal shell and they all end up at the Goodwill!
    Love this post Thom! I needed a chuckle today.

  • George bryant says on

    I think Jesus said in Mark that” you make void the Commandments of God by the tradition of Man ” Jesus was more concern about the relationship from the heart not rules , legalisim for the praise of man

  • Let’s not forget that there is a spiritual battle going on here….if the devil can keep us occupied bickering and stressing over petty things, we’ll spend less time equipping ourselves to take the gospel out to the world. Guess who wins?

  • It’s easy to pick on the traditionalist, but let’s be fair: proponents of contemporary worship and styles have their own sacred cows. If a church doesn’t have a guitar and drum set on the stage, or if the pastor doesn’t dress like a bum, they’ll immediately jump to conclusions.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      Both traditionalists and contemporaries are subject to erecting sacred cows. Believers of all ages have to be careful about falling into religion over a walk of faith.

  • Let’s see… dangerous, rickety cribs that the founding pastor built, AWANA, viewing the pastor’s wife as hired staff without actually paying her, fencing off the back yard of the parsonage, preaching context into people’s salvation verses, attending (or not) local pastor’s association, favorite bible versions…I’m sure I could go on.

  • DICK ROBBINS says on

    How about the sacred “family pew” or “our seat”. God forbid a visitor should accidentally sit in”their seat”!

  • Traditions, traditions! We should never change the Gospel message but the other stuff is negotiable and adjustable. The goal is to reach an ever changing culture with the “good news.”

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