Member spotlight: Ron and Roxy Klassen of Rural Home Missionary Association

Michael Miller  ·  Sep 28, 2017

Ron Klassen’s office looks out on corn and soybean fields, but it’s the mission field of town and country that concerns him as executive director of Rural Home Missionary Association.

Ron and his RHMA staff coordinate 35 missionary couples serving churches in small towns and rural areas around the country. Those pastors and their wives either plant new churches or come alongside struggling churches to steer them in a better direction.

The 75-year-old ministry, which has many Samaritan members in the home office and in the field, serves “town and country” congregations in a variety of other ways as well.

  • Holding conferences for pastors of small-town or country churches.
  • Offering annual, intensive courses on small-town ministry for seminary students about to head into pastoral work.
  • Visiting Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries to let students know about country ministry and how RHMA can help them thrive in it.
  • Holding one-day seminars.

Ron has also helped small-church pastors through the 1996 book No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church.

Rural ministry is not a niche calling. About 75 percent of new evangelical seminary graduates who are seeking pastorates end up in a small-town or rural church. The problem is that many of them are not ready for it, Ron says, having assumed during school that they would serve in a city congregation after graduating. The frequent result is frustration for both church and pastor, sometimes leading to rupture.

RHMA tries to head that off or heal it. But it also tries to get the word out that megachurches are a very small minority of congregations in the nation, and that lost sheep are in the small towns and countryside, too.

“There’s certainly always a propensity for people to look at what’s big, what’s out in front of everybody, the big splash,” Ron says. “Those places tend to get a lot of attention.”

But smaller churches are actually the norm. For example there are 46,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant denomination. Ninety-six percent of churches have fewer than 400 people on a typical Sunday morning, while only about 150 to 180 churches have more than 2,000 at services.

Despite facts like these, Ron says  rural places are frequently overlooked.

“It’s hard to find ministry organizations or even church denominations that give much attention to especially remote rural places,” Ron says. “Folks say, ‘You’re out in the middle of nowhere.’ We like to say, ‘It’s not nowhere if there are people there. Then it’s somewhere.’”

Finding those people and enabling the Gospel to be preached to them is RHMA’s calling. That’s why the parable of the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep resonates with RHMA.

“It’s not that the 99 aren’t important, but what about the one?” Ron says. “So we kind of go after the ‘ones.’”

That includes endeavoring to have a permanent Christian presence in rural areas through church planting, one of founder C.J. Rediger’s desires. Rediger saw ministries like camp revivals, concerts, or vacation Bible school come and go in small towns, with no follow-up. He sought to plant churches and plant pastors who would remain part of the community and sustain the fruit of ministries that passed through.

Serving a town-and-country church, though, is different than serving a city congregation. 

“Contextualization needs to happen,” Ron says. “There are things that are true in rural communities that need to be factored in.”

For instance, how a pastor or church leadership would put a vision together would be different in a rural setting.

“Farmers by nature kind of resist a lot of long-range planning,” Ron points out. “‘We don’t even know if we’re going to have a crop,’ that kind of thing. They’re more subtle, more private, more flexible about it. Not as overt. I think that has to be factored into the process.”

Small groups is another trend that would have to be handled differently in a rural church.

“What do you do about small groups when your church is almost a small group?” Ron says. 

And pushing “transparency” doesn’t work well in small towns.

“If they become transparent, that’s a great thing,” he says. “I just wouldn’t push it. Let it happen organically, if it’s going to happen at all.”

Ron had to learn all of this along with his wife, Roxy, after he graduated from Dallas Seminary. 

“I anticipated I would end up in a ministry not unlike what I grew up in in Phoenix,” Ron says. “We had told the Lord we were willing to go anywhere, so He put us to the test. We ended up in rural Nebraska, rural Oklahoma. That exposed us to the spiritual needs that were out there. We kind of thought that spiritual needs were all in the cities and, once you get beyond the city limits, the needs diminish. We found that wasn’t true. At the same time, the Lord gave us just a real love and a heart for it. It wasn’t anything we expected. It just happened.”

Ron started writing and speaking on rural ministry. When RHMA needed a new executive director 28 years ago, they were given his name as a possibility. RHMA contacted the Klassens, and hired him.

“The hardest thing we’ve ever had to do in our lives was to leave that church (in Corn, Oklahoma) and come to RHMA,” Ron says. “It was a wonderful church there.”

After a challenging first couple of years at RHMA, the Klassens now consider it a privilege to be there.

“People sometimes say, ‘What are you going to do when you grow up?’ And I say, ‘I hope nothing different than what I’m doing right now.’”

Related: "Why SMI? It's about real people, RHMA's Ron Klassen says"