Every 6 months I look forward to the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. April and October of each year, members of the church and their friends listen to messages from church leaders teaching and testifying of God and his Son, Jesus Christ. This includes messages from our beloved prophet as well as the Quorum of the 12 Apostles and other general church leaders.
I enjoy hearing the messages of hope and inspiration. I come with questions in my heart and mind. I come listening for answers from prophets and apostles. Most importantly, I come listening for answers from the Holy Ghost. I want to hear what the Spirit of God is willing to tell me.
I also like discussing with others what they learned from General Conference. The wonderful thing is that despite hearing the same words, each individual can come away with different messages. This is the power of messages carried by the Holy Ghost. The actual message carried to each sincere listener can be individually tailored by God.
In spite of all this, I also hear other conference-goers voicing statements such as:
“They never mentioned [insert topic] as much as they did 20 years ago”
“They don’t really talk about [insert topic] anymore”
“I feel like the church is really emphasizing [insert topic] lately”
I often have such thoughts or questions myself. Wanting more detailed answers than what could be provided by the combined speculative memories of myself, friends, and family members, I decided to take my data skills and put them to work. As a result, several years ago I started compiling the online texts of conference talks and doing some light data analysis to look for trends in words and phrases.
Conference by the Numbers was born as a result of this inquiry. Now, each General Conference, I compile the talks and look for trends and emphases in words or phrases.
In the past, I’ve published my results in my blog Visual Scriptures, including my methods for comparing word usages to past conferences. While I’m keeping all my past content in that blog, this year I’m changing things up and publishing my Conference by the Numbers on Medium.com.
To be clear, (again, see methods), the most commonly used words at General Conference (outside the standard lexical the, and, is, of, etc.) are God, Jesus, Christ, and Lord. The main purpose of the prophets and apostles are to testify of God and his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the major message of every conference.
However, the specific ways that listeners are encouraged to learn about and follow Jesus Christ are what changes each conference. It is those differences that I will discuss in more detail below.
Here’s Conference by the Numbers: October 2020
A couple of thoughts
Whereas virus talk did not particularly dominate the April 2020 General Conference, talk of Pandemic certainly increased this conference. That’s unsurprising given the continued effect we have all felt from COVID-19.
It is also interesting to me that culture and change were also brought up many times. There are many reasons and contexts these words were brought up in each talk. However, the recent civil unrest over racial injustice in the United States certainly provides a backdrop to these words.
As President Russell M. Nelson stated:
Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say. God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto Him, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female.’
The closure and/or limited availability of temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought to the forefront discussion of temples and covenants.
And the increased references to angels and mercy certainly seem appropriate in a time when help, love, and support from God are needed more than ever.
Although I did not find these exact concepts combined and emphasized in this way in a particular talk, I couldn’t help but synthesize some of these words into the red phrases you see in the graphic below (also the title graphic for this article).
Word or phrase usage over time
While the Infographic above shows the emphasis of particular words in this General Conference and compares its usage to average usage of past conferences, I also like to see how usage changes over time and how certain phrases are used.
Below are some graphics I made showing usage over time based on some of the emphasized words or from some of the topics I noticed (or thought) were emphasized this conference.
In particular, it was enlightening to note that culture was not just used more than average, but it was used more than ever before! Same goes for the phrase Food storage.
For More Conference by the Numbers
If you’d like to get updates each conference for the newest Conference by the Numbers, sign up here. I’ll send you an email each April and October with the latest.
If you’d like to see past versions and some other analyses, visit my Visual Scriptures site.