MELLEN, Wis. — It started around 2010 with a small prayer group gathering once a week at the Legion Memorial Library in Mellen to pray for the community.
Over time the group grew larger and began meeting for a weekly Sunday-night Bible study and meal together, at local parks over the summer months and inside of the Mountain Funeral Home in Mellen during the winter — at no cost, thanks to owner Mark Mountain.
Now, after many years of prayer and planning, The Rock Church in Mellen has its own home, its own pastor and a growing congregation of about 30 to 40 adults and children in a town of approximately 750 people.
"God just kept growing it and we were outgrowing spaces," said Ryan Olson, pastor of the church.
The Rock is part of Converge, an interdenominational movement of over 1,300 churches working to help people meet Jesus by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. Ryan Olson and his wife Nicole got involved around 2015 and were called to step into a leadership position with the growing church around the end of 2016 when the previous leaders moved away. Both Ryan and Nicole Olson are originally from the Ashland area; Ryan works part time and is available at the church three days a week, while Nicole is a stay-at-home mom for their six daughters.
Though the Salem Church of Ashland was going through its own building project and mobile church experience — as an arsonist had burned down the Salem church building on Halloween night 2015 — Salem offered the Olsons and The Rock congregation guidance and support as they embarked on a search for a permanent home.
Ryan and Nicole Olson said it was really cool that Salem was still helping to plant churches, never losing sight of their vision to share hope and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As the Mellen Bible study grew, consideration was given to building a new structure, but those involved at The Rock strongly felt that they should restore a building rather than build a new one.
In October of 2016 church leaders opened negotiations with the Mellen City Council to see if they could purchase a building known by most as either the old DNR ranger station or VFW — though it has also been the city garage, a senior center, a community center and once housed the Mellen water company's offices.
After months of deliberations — there were a lot of details to work out — the building was purchased in a public bid for $72,200 on June 12, 2017.
Shortly after church volunteers began working on the building, which needed a lot of TLC because it had sat virtually empty for about six years, being used mostly for storage.
"It needed a very thorough cleaning and paint," Ryan Olson said.
With help from Salem, Ryan and Nicole Olson were sent to Orlando, Florida, in January to be thoroughly evaluated individually and as a couple by Converge and ultimately received the recommendation they sought to be deemed campus leaders and Ryan ordained as a pastor.
In February, The Rock transitioned from a Sunday-night Bible study to a Sunday morning service and began working on figuring out what that looked like, the Ashland Daily Press reported.
"We wanted to set up a foundation of what the DNA of the church will be. We didn't want to just throw some stuff together and start a Sunday morning service," Nicole Olson said.
"We did sort of a soft launch," said Ryan Olson. "Everybody was welcome but we were just trying to see what pieces needed to be addressed and what pieces needed to be developed before we could feel confident with calling it an official grand opening."
The time has come for that grand opening. The Mellen Chamber of Commerce recently held a ribbon-cutting at the church — 721 Fayette Ave. in Mellen — giving people an opportunity to check out the facility and ask questions while enjoying free coffee and doughnuts.
"After the ribbon-cutting we'll be painting the bathrooms at the ballpark at Three Rivers Park and fixing some swings and putting up a new slide, and that's the heart of it. We want to be able to invest in the community. That's why we loved being able to get the old ranger station, because we loved the idea of being able to have something iconic in the community we can restore to serve a new purpose," Nicole Olson said.
The Rock is planning its first official service Sept. 9 at 10 a.m.
"We love Jesus, we love our neighbors and we love our community, and the way we show love for them is by serving them," said Ryan Olson. "We want to see people from all walks life come to know Jesus and walk with Jesus."
Ryan and Nicole Olson said people are invited to come as they are, whether they are wearing baseball caps and ripped jeans and a T-shirt, or a suit and tie. They want to make sure that people are comfortable and come to Jesus for who they are.
"If you are close or far away from God, we want to come alongside of you and walk with you so you can grow in your relationship with God," Ryan Olson said.
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Ashland Daily Press.