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An intentional community is a planned residential community designed to have a much higher degree of teamwork than other communities. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and are often part of the alternative society. They typically also share responsibilities and resources. Intentional communities include cohousing communities, residential land trusts, ecovillages, communes, survivalist retreats, kibbutzim, ashrams and housing cooperatives. Typically, new members of an intentional community are selected by the community's existing membership, rather than by real-estate agents or land owners (if the land is not owned collectively by the community).
Within intentional communities the above terms have different meanings compared to the legal forms of real estate ownership that may have the same name.
Some communities are secular; others have a spiritual basis. One common practice, particularly in spiritual communities, is communal meals. Commonly there is a focus on egalitarian values. Other themes are voluntary simplicity, interpersonal growth and self-reliance. Some communities provide services to disadvantaged populations, for example, war refugees, the homeless, or people with developmental disabilities. Some communities operate learning or health centers.
Many communities have different types or levels of membership. Typically, intentional communities have a selection process which starts with someone interested in the community coming for a visit. Often prospective community members are interviewed by a selection committee of the community or in some cases by everyone in the community. Many communities have a "provisional membership" period. After a visitor has been accepted, a new member is "provisional" until they have stayed for some period (often six months or a year) and then the community re-evaluates their membership. Generally, after the provisional member has been accepted, they become a full member. In many communities, the voting privileges and/or community benefits for provisional members are less than those for full members.
Christian intentional communities are usually composed of those wanting to emulate the practices of the earliest believers. Using the biblical book of Acts (and, often, the Sermon on the Mount) as a model, members of these communities strive for a practical outworking of their individual faith in a corporate context.
A survey in the 1995 edition of the Communities Directory, published by Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), reported that 54% of the communities choosing to list themselves were rural, 28% were urban, 10% had both rural and urban sites, and 8% didn't specify.
The most common form of governance in intentional communities is democratic (64%), with decisions made by some form of consensus decision-making or voting. Of the remainder, 9% have a hierarchical or authoritarian structure, 11% are a combination of democratic and hierarchical structure, and 16% don't specify. Many communities which were initially led by an individual or small group have changed in recent years to a more democratic form of governance.
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