My church does not own vans. This means that with the exception of our summer trips (when we rent them), we depend on the goodwill of parents to drive us to and from various events, including our winter retreat.
Often, this means that teens are spread out over a LOT of smaller vehicles, with 3-4 teens per car.
One of our practices is that we always assign vehicles.
First and foremost, this is a matter of safety. Assigning vehicles accounts for every person participating in an event. It ensures that everyone has a ride and enables me to know exactly where each teen is.
Secondly, this simple practice protects more marginalized teens.
During any youth ministry event, there are certain times that teens are more apt to feel left out or ignored: The big four are meals, free time, the time immediately before bed, and when you're loading vehicles.
If you don't assign vehicles, you've likely observed what I'm talking about.
Just picture this scene.
After your teens have arrived, you're clustered in the parking lot when you point at the vehicles you're taking and say “We're taking those four vehicles today”. Before you've even finished your sentence, teens make a mad dash for the vehicle of their choice, surrounded by their closest friends. Everything's great until you realize there are still 2 or 3 kids standing next to you, trying to disguise their humiliation at not knowing which vehicle – and therefore, which friend group – they're a part of.
Assigning vehicles eliminates this. It ensures that no teen is left feeling like, “If no one even wants to ride with me, why am I going on this event?”
To further protect more marginalized teens, when doing vehicle assignments, we intentionally break up cliques in order to help (read: Force) teens to get to know one another better. Additionally, we assign at least one student leader to each vehicle. Student leaders know and understand their role during the car ride is to stimulate conversation among teens who likely do not know each other well. Their job is to make sure everyone feels included during the car ride. They know that to make that happen, they cannot ride shotgun, a position that leaves them slightly removed from their peers.
Make no mistake. The first time you assign vehicles, you'll hear lots of complaints from teens.
But once this practice becomes one of your youth ministry's habits, complaints will die as teens realize they appreciate they appreciate it, too.
And why wouldn't they?
It keeps teens from having to divide their friend groups themselves. It lets them get to know others. It keeps those who are less connected from feeling like outsiders. And it even gives student leaders a concrete and important role.