The term "sacred cow" has become a popular phrase to describe the dilemma facing us in today's business world and in today's church. A sacred cow is any belief, assumption, practice, policy, system, or strategy that no longer works but is nevertheless continued because of an unwillingness to change. Identifying these sacred cows is the first step in managing change. As I put it in last month's leadership article: "The key to good leadership is to discern when and how to change."

However, the recognition of what needs to be changed and the desire to implement the change is not enough. Many plans for change fail. Between the vision of what needs to be done and the implementation of the plan, roadblocks appear which prevent change from occurring. So how can we manage change?


People are naturally resistant to change because change is usually evaluated as a loss. To implement change in the congregation, we must move people past this natural resistance. Why are some people in the church so resistant to change?

Sometimes it is a communication problem. The people don't understand what needs to be done. In this case, a plan for more effective communication can be developed.

Sometimes it is a financial problem. The people don't see evidence of the necessary resources to complete the task. In this case, a financial plan, perhaps with some up front pledges, can be presented to the church.

Sometimes it is a personality problem. The people don't like the person who is initiating the change. In this case, different leadership can be enlisted. If the pastor is the person who is the problem, change will not occur until the pastor is able to work through some of these relationship problems.

Sometimes it is an emotional problem. The people are attached to a building they don't want to be replaced or a location which they don't want to leave or a ministry in which they have vested interest. In this case, the positive benefits of the change have to be more effectively presented.

The list can go on and on but the point is the same. We must recognize what the barrier is before we can adequately deal with it.
As you try to determine the barriers to change in your church or organization, consider the following suggestions given by Robert Kriegel in his book, Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers. Robert Kriegel identifies four resistance drivers, each of which is a powerful force for the status quo.

  • FEAR: “What if …I lose my job, look stupid, etc.”
  • FEELING POWERLESS: ”No one asked me!”
  • INERTIA: “It’s too much effort.”
  • ABSENCE OF SELF INTEREST: “What’s in it for me?”

Recognizing these barriers to change is the second step in managing change.

(The third step next month)