Why Intentional Community is Bad

Most intentional communities fail, and given the sacrifices required to join one, why take the risk?

 

Video transcript:

RICHARD
Welcome to part three of our fun little series on intentional community. If you haven’t seen the first two don’t worry. You can watch them in any order and the info is in the description below. 

MELINDA
I’m really not sure why we’re making a video called “Why Intentional Community Is Bad”. Isn’t that kind of like dunking on yourself? Not sure I want to be part of it. 

RICHARD
I’ll make my case and see if I can convince you. 

MELINDA
Ok, give it a shot. 

RICHARD
For starters the vast majority of intentional communities fail. Very quickly. According to an article I read on Aeon they fail at a rate slightly higher than business start-ups. And that’s scary. Think about it. In order to join an intentional community, you have to make some pretty big changes to your life. Often you’ll have to uproot, move, change your job, in some cases give up a certain amount of autonomy and private property and there’s over a 90% likelihood that the thing is going to fall apart. It’s a crazy thing to do. 

MELINDA
If you put it that way, yes it is. But the alternative for people who want to live in some form of intentional community probably isn’t appealing either. If they felt ok about staying where they were they probably wouldn’t be looking to join an intentional community. Just like someone who gets involved with a start–up. The risk is worth it because the payoff is potentially enormous. 

RICHARD
But in this case the risk isn’t just financial. It’s about your whole identity. I read this retrospective piece about a bunch of aging hippies who got together up in Vermont a couple years back to talk about the demise of the commune movement of the 1960s. And at the end there’s this heartbreaking quote – this poor old guy’s in tears and he says “There was this brief, shining moment when we knew it could work. We knew it could work, but we blew it.” So there was this ideal but the ideal wasn’t enough to sustain them. 

MELINDA
And yet people keep starting them and joining them. Like I mentioned on the first video, if you look at the Foundation for Intentional Community website there are literally thousands of communities listed just in the US and Canada. What do you say to people who are inspired to step out and try something new and different? Go back home, it’ll never work anyway? That’s a bit of a cold shower. 

RICHARD
No, I would tell them intentional community can’t be an end in itself. It has to be an outgrowth of a more deeply held conviction about the way the way the world should be ordered. It can’t be merely idealistic enthusiasm or a need for some sort of emotional or even religious fulfillment. That, to use the biblical metaphor, is building on sand. 

MELINDA
Ok, now I see where you’re going with this. So for us it’s the teachings of Jesus that compel us to live together. It’s not intentional community per se. 

RICHARD
Right, it’s a result. If you look back at the history of the Bruderhof there have been plenty of failings and moments where the whole thing could have fallen apart but because the foundation was trying to live out Jesus’ teachings and not community, it didn’t. 

MELINDA
I think you just wanted to make a clickbaity video. 

RICHARD
If that would be true it would be very niche clickbait. 

MELINDA
Clickbait is clickbait! Make sure to subscribe and ring the bell. More niche clickbait coming your way soon.