A Georgia Chick-fil-A began breaking down barriers between families and friends with a simple invention: The Cell Phone Coop.

The Cell Phone Coop is just a square cardboard box on each table at over 150 Chick-fil-A locations for customers to put their cell phones in during their meal. Chick-fil-A is calling it “The Family Challenge,” and if completed successfully, each person receives a free ice cream cone.

A half-hour without a cell phone in exchange for free ice cream? Yes, please!

The trend was started by Brad Williams, operator of a Chick-Fil-A in Suwannee, Georgia. And he says the idea “has completely taken off.” He’s even had families come back to try the challenge again because they were unsuccessful the first time.

Sure, it’s brilliant marketing, but it’s also brilliant barrier breaking.

“We really want our restaurant to provide a sense of community for our customers, where family and friends can come together and share quality time with one another,” Williams told Chick-fil-A reporter Sean Ward.

Breaking the Phone Barrier

Let’s be honest—we have enough barriers between each other already, including race, class, faith, world view and, especially right now, politics. We don’t need cell phones to be another barrier between us. But often we let our cell phones distract us from being present with the people we’ve chosen to dine with. The next time you go to a restaurant, take a look around and notice how many tables are more interested in their phones than their dates, their Facebook feeds than their food. It seems we have forgotten how to hold a conversation without a screen separating us.

In some eye-opening studies, cell phone usage has been linked to depression and relationship failure, a study from Baylor University reports. Not to mention distracted eating can lead to weight gain.

To be clear—cell phones are not evil. In fact, they keep us connected to each other in a way that we’ve never had before. But misusing them, overusing them or valuing cell phones over real, in-person relationships builds higher barriers rather than breaking them down. Many are even considering, or already have, gone back to a “dumb phone” in an age of smartphones with endless diversions.

Breaking Barriers With Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A has been an outspoken advocate for marriage advocate for marriage and family, and now the Cell Phone Coop is going beyond just philosophy. It’s a practical, simple way to foster relationships, and break down barriers to community in families and friendships. And, of course, when we break down barriers to community with each other, we break down barriers to Jesus and the Gospel.  As we build bridges instead of barriers, we earn the trust and the right to talk about Jesus.

Breaking down barriers to community might be easier than you think. Maybe it’s simply removing the social media apps from your phone, or agreeing to deposit phones in a central location during dinner or evening hours. Maybe it’s reinstating family dinner. What something practical, like the Chick-fil-A Cell Phone Coop, you could do in your family to break down barriers to each other?

Oh, and we love Tim Hawkins’ tribute to Chick-fil-A, too…just in case you were wondering.