Immature neural circuits undergo synaptic refinement, in which activity-dependent competition between synapses results in pruning of inappropriate connections and maintenance of appropriate ones. A longstanding question is how neuronal activity eliminates specific synapses based on their strength. The technical challenges of <italic>in vivo</italic> studies have made it difficult to identify a molecular link between decreased activity and synapse elimination. We developed an organotypic coculture model of the mouse retinogeniculate system that facilitates real-time imaging and elucidation of molecular mechanisms underlying the removal of less active synapses during synaptic competition. Using this model we show for the first time that complement component C1q is necessary for activity-dependent synaptic competition and preferentially localizes to less active, competing presynaptic inputs. In conjunction with classic <italic>in vivo</italic> and <italic>ex vivo </italic>models, this coculture model is a new tool to reveal molecular pathways underlying CNS circuit refinement.