Intestinal stem cells at the bottom of crypts fuel the rapid renewal of the different cell types that constitute a multitasking tissue. The intestinal epithelium facilitates selective uptake of nutrients while acting as a barrier for hostile luminal contents. Recent discoveries have revealed that the lineage plasticity of committed cells — combined with redundant sources of niche signals — enables the epithelium to efficiently repair tissue damage. New approaches such as single-cell transcriptomics and the use of organoid models have led to the identification of the signals that guide fate specification of stem cell progeny into the six intestinal cell lineages. These cell types display context-dependent functionality and can adapt to different requirements over their lifetime, as dictated by their microenvironment. These new insights into stem cell regulation and fate specification could aid the development of therapies that exploit the regenerative capacity and functionality of the gut.