15 Common Sacred Cows in Churches

August 27, 2018

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!

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156 Comments

  • A bulletin with an overwhelming amount of text/info & “insider” lingo and abbreviations 🙁

  • The Sunday morning start time was somewhat of an issue when we decided to change it. The church I came to 3 years ago went through a split (400 members to 38) and they’d always started at 9am. The leadership team, after much discussion, decided to bump the start time back to 10am, with young families in mind. We advertised this change well in advance and communicated to the church why we decided to do it. We had several families leave because, “If we start at 10am, the service will conclude later and the lines and seating for lunch at the local restaurants would be filling up”. They chose a restaurant lunch over trying to attract younger families. The church is slowly starting to grow back (maybe the time change has something to do with it or not). No matter, there are “sacred cows” for most folks and when they outweigh people, they have to go. Blessings!

  • “One size fits all” worship will hinder the church from reaching the lost. I have attended a church that had Gospel, Contemporary, Heavy Metal, Spanish, as well as hymns accompanied by an organ. You’re only limited by the space you have. Come for the music, stay for the Word (which was delivered to the outlying rooms/tents remotely. Jesus turned no one away and neither should we through our words or actions.

  • One of the biggest SACRED COWS in many of the small churches in our area is WHICH VERSION OF THE BIBLE SHOULD BE ISED TO PREACH FROM!!!
    Should it be the KJV ONLY?? Is the NASB or the ESV acceptable?? Is it wrong that your version does not use the word “tabernacle,” even though the meaning of the Scripture was not changed?? I was told by a “preacher” once that if you were “supposedly saved” under the preaching of any thing other than the KJV, “then you were not saved” – WOW!!!! One woman told me after a service one time, (and this is not a joke, sadly) that “if the KJV was good enough for Jesus, then the KJV is good enough for me!” – WOW AGAIN!!!! I find this all very sad!!!
    One more thought — The time that we spend as Christians arguing over & deciding what to do about these “sacred cows” should be time better spent out in the real world sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost & dying & going to a devil’s hell!!! Where are our priorities???!!!!

    • Craig Giddens says on

      A lot of people say things about the Bible version issue that is pure nonsense …… however it is a serious and important issue.

  • Bob Armor says on

    I always find the organ a humorous sacred cow because I believe it was very controversial when churches started using organs because they were an instrument associated with saloons and movie houses.

  • Let’s be careful that our innovations don’t become the traditions that shackle the next generation of leaders.

  • Greg Noble says on

    We built a new sanctuary and was going to change how we serve communion and need for a “communion table”. I had never seen such angst. My response became show where in the bible it says what type of communion table we should have and where it should be put. For some people, “I wish you had as much passion for the lost and unchurched as you do for a wooden table.”

  • Derick Pindroh says on

    The Holy, Sacred Desk. I’ve never understood it. As a Worship Pastor, I’m not a fan of the huge, wooden, monstrosity that take 12 men to move. I’ve replaced numerous ones over the years with smaller footprint, wooden/acrylic ones that can be moved up and down before and after the Worship Music. I have realized that to move the ‘sacred desk’, it’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission!

  • Yes, the church has way more sacred cows than the 15 mentioned while others have the modern day sacred cows that supposedly help them to stay in the loop. Today we have the lights , the type of pulpit and so many others. My genuine concern is how to bring this home to the leader/visionary as most of these are the parts that is not often realised and in most cases a strong fence is already in place with regard to this.

  • Came for the comments on attire. Brought popcorn. Was not disappointed.

  • So many comments, this may have been said already. I’m pretty sure the practice of the white cloth over the emblems of the Lord’s Supper began in the days before air-conditioning in the churches. Windows and doors were left open and the flies would gather for communion. Unknowingly, the practice continued for may years after the installation of air-conditioning because it had become ceremonial and “sacred.”

    Thanks for the list. Pretty much on the nose, with many possible additions. God bless you in your future efforts to revitalize the Church.

  • How about Wednesday evening meals at church? Are they worth the effort? Many will come to eat then leave and never participate in any of the activities or Bible study! What say you?

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