After twenty one years in ministry, I’ve worked with and ministered to thousands of people. And ten minutes ago, I realized something. I can now, finally and authoritatively, paint you a vivid picture of a person who is genuinely passionate about their church.

Hint: It has almost nothing to do with having their needs met. In fact, by and large, people who make having their own needs met the criteria for how passionate they are about their church are generally the people who are most critical of it.

No, the most passionate churchgoers are the ones serving sacrificially in their sweet spot. They’re the ones taking the initiative to build authentic community (not just wanting it). They’re generous givers. They’re inviting friends. They’re walking out the doors and doing what they learned. They love to give themselves to a cause bigger than themselves instead of just being fed by it. In other words, the most passionate people are defined by positive verbs.

Isn’t that backwards? Aren’t those things the result of being passionate? Nope. They’re the cause. It turns out passion is a byproduct of engagement. Investment. Sacrifice. Buy-in. You want proof? Pick a poor person in your church. Any one will do. Do you care about them? Are you passionate about their needs, their decisions, their day-to-day life? Maybe. Sorta. Cause’ I oughta be.

Now imagine scraping together a hard earned $1000 and pressing it into their palm in the foyer on Sunday morning. As they walk away whistling with the cash, your heart goes with them, doesn’t it? Suddenly you’re praying for them. Lying awake at night wondering if they spent the money wisely. Asking them how they’re doing.

Passion follows engagement.

I’ve also seen that there are four levels of buy-in.

1. Agreement. In other words, people think through their church and realize, “This is what I’m all about”—or, and this is critical—they are able to look at what’s going on and say, “Close enough.” IE, your church doesn’t have to do things exactly the way you want to take this step. Not being able to say, “close enough” may be standing in the way of true passion for you. Incidentally, leaders have to say “close enough” every single day because no one sees the vision exactly like they do but there are people moving the same direction that need affirming. What I’m advocating is extending that very same grace in response. This is where people start saying, “I believe in this.”

2. Excitement. Emotions get stirred. Maybe a vision talk preached it’s way under your skin, maybe there’s cool stuff happening in the ministries that jive with what you think is important and it all just gives you goosebumps. This excitement is great—necessary, even—but it’s only temporary. The purpose of emotion at this point is to catapult you into action. If it doesn’t, this will fade, and quickly. The purpose of this stage is to engage the heart. People take their “I believe” and add, “and I care.”

3. Action. You do something. This is where you dive in and invest yourself in every way you can think of. Not in a measured, tithing sort of way, but investing as if what you’re into can actually change the world and is worth dying for (or at least your part of it). This is where people take their “I believe, I care” and add, “and I commit.”

4. Leadership. Not the stuffy org chart kind. I mean what happens when we take the initiative to be the change and infect people with the vision. This, it turns out, is where real passion finds wings. When we become contagious advocates. This is where people take their “I commit” and ramp it up into an “I’m committed.”

So… you want to love your church? That’s a choice. And the choice is this: Engage or consume. Of course, there are exceptions—truly brutal churches that are hard to love or have so far to go that it’s hard to see the light, even at the end of the tunnel. The problem is, I think people assume far too quickly that their church is “one of those bad churches” without diving in to find out themselves. Cause honestly? The churches worth getting excited about are the ones full of great people just like you… fully engaged in building it.

So… what do you think?