An intentional community is a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle. They typically share responsibilities and resources. Intentional communities include collective households, cohousing communities, coliving, ecovillages, monasteries, communes, survivalist retreats, kibbutzim, ashrams, and housing cooperatives. New members of an intentional community are generally 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).
The purposes of intentional communities vary in different communities. They may include sharing resources, creating family-oriented neighborhoods, and living ecologically sustainable lifestyles, such as in ecovillages.
Some communities are secular; others have a spiritual basis. One common practice, particularly in spiritual communities, is communal meals. Typically, there is a focus on egalitarian values. Other themes are voluntary simplicity, interpersonal growth, and self-sufficiency.
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. Other communities, such as Castanea of Nashville, Tennessee, offer a safe neighborhood for those exiting rehab programs to live in. Some communities also act as a mixed-income neighborhood, so as to alleviate the damages of one demographic assigned to one area. Many intentional communities attempt to alleviate social injustices that are being practiced within the area of residence. Some intentional communities are also micronations, such as Freetown Christiania.
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 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 working out of their individual faith in a corporate context. These Christian intentional communities try to live out the teachings of the New Testament and practice lives of compassion and hospitality. Communities such as the Simple Way, the Bruderhof and Rutba House would fall into this category. These communities, despite strict membership criteria, are open to visitors and not reclusive in the way that certain intentional communities are.
A survey in the 1995 edition of the Communities Directory, published by Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), reported that 54 percent of the communities choosing to list themselves were rural, 28 percent were urban, 10 percent had both rural and urban sites, and 8 percent did not specify.
The most common form of governance in intentional communities is democratic (64 percent), with decisions made by some form of consensus decision-making or voting. A hierarchical or authoritarian structure governs 9 percent of communities, 11 percent are a combination of democratic and hierarchical structure, and 16 percent do not 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.