You Will Never Guess What I learned From Panera About Small Groups

On a Saturday afternoon while eating lunch at Panera,  I began to notice a long line forming at the front counter. A friendly high school student behind the register. She smiled and worked hard to get orders in. There was a line of people waiting. I watched as a few more families walked in. It was getting busy.

Sitting to the left were 5 bright and shiny Ipads sitting on kiosks with huge signs saying “Avoid the Line and Order Here.” I wondered, why would they choose the long line? Why not choose the iPad sitting there beckoning them for their orders? Not a single person opted for an iPad. They weren’t old people clutching their checkbooks either. Here were young families and Apple Pay savvy adults. Each opting to order real food from a real person. Even if it meant waiting. Waiting in a line.

Now mommy don’t play that. My 6-year-old sat next to me eating her mac and cheese I had happily ordered from the iPad just 5.2 minutes ago. I like efficiency and have the Fast Pass system at Disneyland down to an art form. I could not stop thinking about the empty iPads.

Take your small group ministry to the next level by attending the “Lobby Gathering” 2018 in sunny Southern California March 13-15th! Register HERE!


As you launch small groups in 2018 and help connect people into community, remember to make it personal.  I own plenty of bright shiny iPads and fancy displays for small group sign ups. I spend way too much time figuring out what kiosk app to download to display my web form. At the end of day, it’s the personal interaction that wins. Panera was a good reminder. We all crave interaction as we make choices about soups, bagels,  or small groups.

The bottom line is this. My small group sign-ups have increased dramatically by having a team of real humans waiting to help people get connected into community. Try looking for ways to add a personal touch every chance you get. An extra phone call or personal email [that isn’t from a mail merge] speaks volumes.

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