A colleague nearby wrote to the ministers' email chat recently asking about how often a half-time minister should be preaching per month. Most responses to the question dealt with the number of hours required to write a sermon, how many hours a month the minister is expected to work, and other "quantitative" issues. The logic was that if a minister is half-time, s/he should preach twice a month.
I disagree with that logic, not because it is unreasonable but because it fails to address a fundamental need of a growing (or hoping-to-grow) congregation. That need is for an ongoing, steady, informed presentation of Unitarian Universalist theology, principles, and sources from the pulpit. If our primary public outreach is our worship service, which is open to all comers, every time we open the sanctuary doors, visitors should be treated to Unitarian Universalism. They shouldn't get some off-topic speaker or clumsily-done pet cause; they should get a real UU message.
Years ago, when Robert Latham was my minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado, he was preparing to go on sabbatical for a few months and gave his sabbatical committee, of which I was a member, some very good advice, as we started thinking about how we would fill the pulpit while he was gone. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Every service has to have a Unitarian Universalist theme. It has to deal with our theology, our principles and sources, our values, our social justice outreach, and it has to be grounded in what we believe to be our saving message."
When I worked with the worship committee in my first pastorate, I taught them this same principle and I have emphasized it in every one of my congregations. The first one was getting ready to offer services all summer long and I insisted that each service be planned with this theme in mind. I called it protein, UU protein. Without UU protein, a UU worship service isn't much different from a Rotary meeting. It doesn't satisfy our religious mission. Protein forms the building blocks for our physical bodies; religious protein forms the building blocks for our religious selves.
And this is what growing congregations need to have, every single Sunday. If that means that a halftime minister preaches twice a month, the other two services need to offer just as strong a UU message as if it were the minister in the pulpit. Lay people can do this very well, if they understand the principle of protein. Guest speakers from a nearby non-profit or university can offer something nourishing if adequate effort is made to link his/her topic to UU values. If it means that the halftime minister preaches three times a month, leaving one service for a lay or outside speaker, the same principle applies. And the halftime minister who is preaching three times a month should cut back on other involvements within the congregation. This, of course, depends on the priorities of the congregation, which, in a small group, are not always growth-oriented, unfortunately. And I'm not talking growth in numbers but in strength, commitment, and UU identity.
A small congregation which can only afford parttime ministry needs to consider how important it is to their growth to have a steady UU message from the pulpit every week without fail. Otherwise, visitors who come looking for a faith community may get an erroneous message about our faith. And that is not conducive to healthy growth. We want people to get a clear picture of what UUism can mean to them.