Over 100 people came to the Community Cook-out at Hillside Church, Rowsburg.
By Stephanie Heading, managing editor
Pastor Mike Feliciano is not your typical church planter. After 35 years in ministry, serving in multiple roles, he is now serving as a church planter.
In the past eight years, he has started not one, but two new church plants in Ohio. “About twelve years ago God began to stir in my heart about church planting in rural areas,” said Feliciano. He and his wife, Julie, both grew up in small towns and they saw the need for church plants there.
About twelve years ago God began to stir in my heart about church planting in rural areas
“We sensed the need for strong, local, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches in these areas. Most people were traveling thirty-plus miles to attend church when they should have a church in which to worship, serve, and reach their neighbors for Christ in their town.”
He planted his first church, Fellowship Church, Wellington, in January 2015. Today the church is strong, healthy, and self-supporting. “A year before we left, we were able equip and send out church planters, Jeff and Jennifer Osberg, to plant a church in Wooster,” he said.
His second church plant, Hillside Church, Rowsburg, is a five-month-old church that already has a rich story to tell. While the church launched in March 2023, its history goes back to 2020. “We sensed God leading us away from Fellowship to start a new church in the Ashland area. In 2020 we began to pray to confirm this call.”
However, with the COVID pandemic raging, they felt it was just not God’s timing. Fellowship Church needed its pastor. But as the pandemic started to wane, they still sensed God’s leading. Then, in March 2021, the Felicianos suffered an unexpected blow -- doctors diagnosed Julie with cancer. They decided to stay at Fellowship Church.
“We needed our church more than ever,” said Feliciano. “After prayer, treatment, and surgery, God healed my wife.”
We needed our church more than ever
Despite cancer and the pandemic, the couple still sensed God’s call to plant a church near Ashland. In December 2021, they learned that Rowsburg Lutheran Church was closing. Rowsburg is just seven miles from their target area of Ashland. “Julie grew up in Rowsburg, and we lived there for sixteen years,” he said. “We raised our child in this small town and know the people.”
Sensing an open door, Feliciano approached the leadership of the Lutheran church, shared his testimony and his desire to plant a church in Rowsburg. Then he asked if they would allow the church plant to meet in their building. They agreed to the request, but eventually took it a step further.
“They voted unanimously in April 2022 to give us the building.” The Felicianos attended the closing service of the Lutheran church in July 2022, and during that service the Lutheran congregation collected an offering for Hillside. A couple of months later in September 2022, the church plant closed on the property, and Feliciano organized a church planting team of eleven people and got busy renovating the building and introducing Hillside Church to Rowsburg.
“We began painting the outside of the building and moved our work inside after colder weather came,” Feliciano noted. “We started knocking on doors, witnessing, and letting people know we were coming. People would regularly stop in, ask questions, and view our progress on the building.”
In December 2022, Hillside held a pre-launch service and 51 people came. Fifty-six people attended the launch of Hillside Church on March 15, 2023. “Each week we saw more visitors come and stay,” said Feliciano.
Each week we saw more visitors come and stay
Attendance continued to climb through the spring with 80 people in Good Friday service and 91 in attendance on Easter. “We have seen one person come to Christ. We have been averaging between 70-75 in our worship services, 17 people in weekly discipleship, and 25 volunteers who serve in a weekly rotation.”
Five months later, Hillside Church is thriving. Feliciano says attendance is growing and soon they will have to set up chairs to accommodate the increasing crowd in the sanctuary.
Throughout the process of planting Hillside Church, Feliciano has seen the benefits of working in cooperation SBC entities, such as Send Network Ohio, the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio (SCBO), Cleveland Hope Association, and partner churches such as Fellowship Church, Wellington, Dublin Baptist Church, and Cuyahoga Valley Church.
Hillside Church was also the recipient of funds from the Ray Roberts State Mission Offering which helped the church purchase new entry doors, as well as sound and video equipment.
“We have received encouraging cards and letters from people and churches around the state and across the country who are praying for us. Prayer is the key,” said Feliciano. “We are blessed by God and by the cooperative efforts of our SBC family across the country. God is doing great things in a small town because He is faithful and so are His people.”
Julie and Mike Feliciano
People from Hillside Church in Rowsburg painted and rehabilitated their building which was given to them by a Lutheran church that closed.