“Intentional Christians…view their Christian faith as much more than religion. For them it is a way of life, something that defines their entire existence. Everything they do—mentally or physically, politically or personally—is done because they belive being a Christian requires that action. Their religion is not a part of their life, it is their life.”(Kauffman 2009:xvii)
Christians have been living in intentional community for quite some time. Kauffman argues that some of Jesus’ first followers were living in intentional community together. More recently, the popularity of Christian communal, intentional, living in the United States has ebbed and flowed over the 20th century. The Catholic Worker movement began in in 1930s, and has remained strong in the U.S. (Kauffman 2009). Other notable phases of this intentional communal living occurred during the 60s and 70s, with the Jesus Movement (Kauffman 2009).
Currently, Christian intentional living is experiencing another upswing in the United States. Coinciding with—and arguably, influenced by—the growing Christian social movement known as the Emerging Church, the Christian intentional community movement has been growing and gaining visibility since the early 2000s. The Emerging Church – a movement which can be traced to the early 1990s – is a label, coined by movement insiders and primarily intended as cultural critique (Bielo 2011b:5). Members of the Emerging Church, or Emerging Evangelicals, are primarily white, middle-class, well-educated Christians who voice frustration with conservative Evangelical subculture – which, by and large, they were raised in – and attempt to “live” a response (Bielo 2011b:6). In the late 2000s, social scientists began investigating the movement, though the first major study wasn’t published until Bielo’s “Emerging Evangelicals: Faith, Modernity and the Desire for Authenticity” (2011b).
Another major influence on the current wave of Christian intentional community is New Monasticism. New Monasticism can be situated within the Emerging Church movement, and is marked by the same disenchantment with conservative evangelical Christian culture that characterizes the larger movement, but calls its adherents to “live” their cultural critique in a different way (Bielo 2011b:7). Bielo (2011b:99) explains that all New Monastics are Emerging Evangelicals, but not all Emerging Evangelicals are New Monastics. The New Monastic Movement was institutionalized in 2004, at a conference in Durham, North Carolina, where the 12 Marks of New Monasticism were agreed upon (by New Monastics themselves) and drafted (Moll 2005). Though New Monasticism arose among a younger sect of Christians than those within the Emerging Church, the movement is still predominantly white, middle-class, and well-educated.
New Monastics posit themselves in opposition to mega-church culture, the commodification of Christianity, white flight and suburbanization, and seek to form intentional communities that abide by the 12 marks of New Monasticism (Clayborn 2006). The 12 marks include “Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire,” “Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us,” “…active pursuit of a just [racial] reconciliation,” and “Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies” (Wilson-Hartgrove 2008:39). Monasticism, in this modern rendering, can be interpreted as an intent to practice religion in one’s daily life – as intent to practice the 12 Marks in daily life – and doesn’t bear much resemblance to historically reclusive monastic living. As stated above, New Monastics are deeply committed to social justice work – this is often manifested through programs promoting sustainable, urban agriculture, and most New Monastics practice some form of urban homesteading (Bielo 2011a:19).
Since 2004, numerous books have been written by Christian intentional community members, calling others to join the movement – a call that is being answered, as evidenced by increasing numbers of young Christians migrating to inner city areas. The number of Christian intentional communities is difficult to calculate, as the movement is intentionally unorganized – these Christians often prefer house churches or personal worship to church planting (Bielo 2011b). But an online register of “Community of Communities,” maintained by the Simple Way – one of the first, and most widely known New Monastic communities – listed over 160 intentional communities in over 30 states (Community of Communities 2013) – an increase from only 64 registered groups in 25 states as of October 2010 (Bielo 2011b:100). This online register has since been taken down.
Scholars have recently turned their attention towards this social phenomenon. New Monastic communities have been the topic of a master’s thesis, in which Lowitzki (2006) draws on participant observation conducted in intentional communities to discuss their preference for communal living. Bielo (2011a, 2011c) has contributed a large body of scholarship to studies of this new wave of Christian intentional community, focusing on the cultural logics of, and difficulties faced by, these Christians who relocate to urban areas. Elisha (2008a, 2008b) contributes analysis of the efforts of Christian intentional community members to provide aid or charity to local populations.
This website adds to extant knowledge on modern Christian intentional communities by documenting the narratives of community members in Kansas. The recent wave of Christian intentional communities deserves more scholarly attention. This website attempts to both add to knowledge of this social phenomenon, and increase awareness of the diverse religious expression occurring in Kansas today.
This website also adds to the Religion in Kansas Project at the University of Kansas Department of Religious Studies, and was created as part of a summer research project by a Religion in Kansas intern. Read more about the Religion in Kansas Project here.
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