How to Kill a Sacred Cow at your Church (Part 2)

How to Kill a Sacred Cow at your Church (Part 2)

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

In my last post we talked about killing sacred cows.

You know, that program or event that you’d be crazy to get rid of in your church because you’d have a small scale insurrection on your hands.

Well, as we said, sometimes we have to kill a sacred cow in order to move forward and create change in our church.

So, how do you do that well? I have ten tactics to share and the first five, which are all about gaining perspective, can be found here.

The last five tactics are all about implementing change. Here we go.

6. Plan for the Challenges

One of the traps that we fall into is listening to the concerns that are presented (such as those in focus groups or a SWOT analysis) but never acting on or addressing them.

Been there? I know I have.

If we want to kill that sacred cow with minimal negative impact, we must create a plan to tackle every threat and consequence that could arise from the change that we wish to implement.

This is particularly challenging for those of us who are optimists because our natural response is to say:

It will work out

I happen to be an optimist. I just believe that whatever idea I have will just work. Trust me!

The problem is that when it comes to killing sacred cows, “It will work out” isn’t a good enough answer. What is needed here is a plan to address each and every challenge that came up in the SWOT and Focus Groups.

Good intentions and wishful thinking can’t kill a sacred cow.

So, if you want to navigate change smoothly, take each challenge seriously and carefully create a plan to address each one.

7. Coalition

One voice of change is easy to dismiss.

Multiple respected voices are difficult to ignore.

What I’m saying is that unless you’ve been leading in your church for decades, it can be dangerous to tackle a sacred cow alone. This battle will cost social capital that you may not have accumulated.

If you know that something needs to change and that the change will be unpopular and resisted in the short-term, you need a coalition. You need influential people on your side.

I know what you’re thinking:

Well that sounds political and politics don’t belong in the church.

Look, call it whatever you want, but this is how things work.

I’m not saying that you do this in an underhanded or secretive way. I am saying that you might need help navigating this change and if it’s truly a sacred cow, you will need the support of people who are trusted leaders in your congregation.

How do you do this?

Well, start taking influential leaders out to lunch or coffee, share your vision and ask them to join you. If after doing this, these influential leaders aren’t on board, you probably have more groundwork to do before you can go after that sacred cow.

If, however, people are jumping on board, you are well on your way to a creating a coalition.

Take that coalition and apply it to the challenges you uncovered in the SWOT and Focus Groups. Assigning each challenge to a trusted team member can be a great strategy.

8. Communication

If there is one facet of killing that sacred cow that could derail the entire process, it is communication.

This plan you have to kill this sacred cow and replace it with something more effective... you’ve been mulling this over for months. You think about it on your jog, in the shower, when your spouse thinks you are listening to them... you have thought it through every which way and you are convinced that your plan is better for the church. It’s so obvious!

The trouble is that you’ve had months to process.

Your people haven’t.

Many people don’t like change, especially in church. We've had some of the same people attending Sunday school since 1941. You’re going to take that away?!? Are you insane?

This lesson has been a hard one for me. There have been several situations in which I implemented a change that I knew was best, the plan was strong and everything was great, until I told people and then the fireworks started.


Because I hadn’t thought through a strategic communication plan.

Don’t make this mistake because it really isn’t a fun one to navigate. As you consider implementing change, take time to create a strategic communication plan.

Here are a few questions to consider:

When does everyone need to know?

Take some time to consider the absolute best time to communicate the changes you want to make. Keep in mind how this decision will affect your people. Aim for a time that will give them the ability to adjust without any sort of hardship.

Who needs to know about this early?

Some people just need more time to process. Get the slow adopters on board by giving them more time. There is no rule that everyone has to know at the same time.

How can we maximize the vision behind this change in the way we communicate?

Here’s a bad communication plan: “This needs to change so we’re changing it!” How about this instead: “Imagine if we...” Lead with vision.

Who will be upset about this and how can we minimize the fallout?

Let’s be real, Negative Nancy isn’t going to love it no matter how you say it. How can you minimize the negativity? Is it a one-on-one meeting? Is it a phone call?

Who should be the one communicating this change?

Some changes require communication from the highest levels of leadership. Is this a change that requires the voice of your senior pastor?

A perfect plan can be derailed by poor communication. If we tell people in the wrong way or at the wrong time, they will likely resist.

That is exactly what we don’t need when attempting to kill a sacred cow.

9. Feedback

There is this funny little thing called real life.

Sometimes, when we create and then execute a great plan, there are unforeseen factors.

It reminds me of a football game. The coaching staff puts together a game plan. The team prepares and addresses every conceivable contingency — if they go hurry up, if they run the wildcat, if they do an onside kick (non-football fans, just smile and nod and yell SPORTS!)

The team is confident and prepared but then comes game day and there are unforeseen factors.

The opposing team is running a different defense, one that they haven’t seen all year. The field is wet and the players need different cleats.

It could be anything.

A good coach will listen to the feedback players provide when they come off the field and make adjustments.

The key here is to listen to feedback.

When it comes to killing a sacred cow and implementing a new program or ministry in its place, there will be unforeseen factors. It’s critically important that we listen to feedback during the first couple of weeks of this implemented change.

Wise leaders don’t ignore feedback and they are willing to adjust their plan based on how it is actually playing out in real life.

10. Don't Give Up

Ok. One final tactic for killing a sacred cow:

Stay the Course.

Maintain trajectory.

Don’t give up.

Whatever you want to call it... just don’t quit.

Here’s something I’ve learned in ministry: Big changes always take two years to take hold. The first year is full of turmoil. Some people will be angry. Some will complain. Some will stop attending. The temptation here will be to give in to the demands of the naysayers. Don’t do it. You can’t measure the success of a major transition during the first year. It’s a transition year.

The second year is often a year of, “Remember when we used to...” and “that didn’t work so maybe we should go back to what we were doing.” Don’t go for it. Major change takes two years to take root. Stay the course.

Leadership requires steadiness and resolve. If God has given you a vision to move your church forward, stick with it. Don’t give up.

Change demands strong leadership. And, hang in there because the third year is the year of new normal. Eventually, people move on and embrace the new plan.

Wrap Up

Well there you go! Ten tactics to kill that sacred cow.

I hope this has been helpful.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and I’m sure we’re leaving plenty out. We’d love to hear your thoughts on wisely navigating major change. I’m sure you’ve learned some lessons along the way.

Feel free to leave us a comment below.

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