Life in Community

How to Start an Intentional Community

Five Lessons from the History of the Bruderhof

November 23, 2020 by

When considering how to start an intentional community, it’s tough to even know where to begin. There are so many variables to consider, and each community has its own unique flavor. But looking back at the one hundred year history of the Bruderhof and other intentional communities we have worked with, a few common themes emerge. (OK, this is maybe less a how-to guide than a “do you really know what you’re getting into” list, but still.)

1. Have a vision

Just living in community, while good, is not enough to sustain an intentional community. There needs to be a common goal between members, something that keeps people together despite the inevitable differences of opinion that arise. For some, that shared commitment is environmental justice, or caring for disabled people. For us on the Bruderhof, it is attempting to live a Christian faith that embodies the coming Kingdom of God.

ICEmbedPhoto credit: Danny Burrows

2. Learn from others

When the Bruderhof was about to start an intentional community in the United States for the first time, members visited many already-existing communities such as the Macedonia Cooperative and Koinonia Farms. Ultimately these connections helped them find a toehold in a new country and start a community business that still thrives today.

3. Consider decision making and dispute resolution

Starting an intentional community is exciting and it’s easy to get lost in rosy visions. Beyond a vision, however, it’s important to understand that hard times and internal differences will arise. Considering in advance how to address those is essential. For us, that is grounded in the precepts of loving fraternal admonition set out in Matthew 18.

4. Just start

While it’s obviously important to plan ahead before starting an intentional community, you’ll never be able to plan everything in advance. Sooner or later, it becomes time to turn words into deeds. The founding of the Bruderhof in 1920 was much the same, as Bruderhof co-founder Emmy Arnold wrote: “There was no financial basis of any kind, either for starting this proposed business venture or for buying the Villa at Sannerz and realizing our dream of a community house. But that made no difference. We decided it was time to turn our backs on the past and start afresh in full trust.”

5. Welcome visitors

While starting a community needs a core group of committed members, sustaining a community requires reaching out to a much broader circle. At the Bruderhof, we’ve welcomed people of all descriptions; some have joined us, others have joined or started another intentional community, and yet others have found other paths in life. But hopefully, we have all helped each other along the way.

I’m sure there are other lessons we could share, but most of them are best conveyed by spending time living together. If you’d like to spend some time working alongside us, get in touch with us here.

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What is the Bruderhof? We're an intentional Christian community with locations worldwide. We try to love our neighbor and share everything, so that peace and justice become a reality.

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