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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  • It is not the scared cow, it is not the dress code and it is not the praise and worship songs or music; Don’t try to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye, when you have a beam sticking out of your eye; Or they shall know you are My Disciples because you Love one another. It is to All Be About our LORD and Savior JESUS CHRIST and GOD.

  • The B*ll*t*n (so sacred we dare not even write the whole word)
    This is directly tied to the order of worship. It must be detailed to such an extent that whatever life is left in the worship service must be thoroughly sucked out and that is fine as long as the script is religiously adhered to.

    Another “cow” is the church membership roll. While it looks good on paper, it’s hardly reflective of reality.
    75% of the pews are empty (conservative estimate),, but hey, we have 500 members, so we’re good.

  • I thought church is for the Saved not the lost. I thought more important than that the Church is for God not us. Dressing up for church is a testimony you have been to HIS house not bowling or Walmart
    Reverence is gone !!!
    You wouldn’t dress down if You where invited to the White House
    Why God’s House

    • A problem with that is who decides what’s good enough for God (I reckon nothing in my closet would even come close to being “good enough”. Reverence is fashion independent. I understand what you’re saying, but at the same time it can be a point of judging others based on their appearance. Just because someone is dressed to the nines “for God” does not mean their heart is right. But that’s an assumption other people might make.

  • I really enjoy Thom’s postings! My husband and my self are new pastors and are pastoring in a denominational church. One of the things we really want to change is the half walls in front of the front church pew. We feel, that it creates a barrier to its’ use, as well as a visual/perceptional barrier between the congregation and the stage (ie the leadership). We would like to remove them, however we have had some resistance to this. No one ever sits on them, there is no leg room and it would open up the front for altar calls and a children’s message during service. I have been trying to find information on why these should be removed, as in any more modern church building we have been in does not have them. Does anyone know of any research that we can use to present to the board as a good reason to remove them. We have been to church growth seminars and came from a progressive church however it would be nice to have something from someone else beside us to demonstrate to them that we should remove them.

  • I love ties!!!! In fact, I still wear one very Sunday when I preach.

  • The cross. I don’t mean the cross of Jesus but the big giant one in the front of the sanctuary that is not allowed to be changed or moved, and serves as a bragging right over any other church that doesn’t have one or doesn’t have one as big.

  • Victor Christian says on

    Not additional – but I do question one of those listed. If a church member (supposedly a follower of Christ) supports the killing of children and/or gay marriage – would that not be sin which needs dealt with in accordance with Matthew 19?

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