Conference by the Numbers: October 2021 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

What’s in a name?

That’s the sub-theme for October 2021 Conference by the Numbers for the 191st Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A variety of words and topics came to the top after analyzing for frequency and relative usage compared to past general conferences. Clusters of concepts such as “focus, temple,” “suffering, disciples, trust,” “small, simple, difficult” or “question, answer, change, repentance, better” stand out.

However, as I looked over the results again, the theme of names came out as a particular emphasis — especially after I re-read Elder Neil Andersen’s talk “The Name of the Church Is Not Negotiable.”

How did I get to names as a sub-theme? As always, I select the words that are emphasized at a frequency of greater than 25 mentions and are 2x more frequently (i.e. 100% more or greater) than previous conference averages. This is after removing the top 100 words in the English language.

The reason for this slightly complicated formula is simple. If you only looked at the most frequently used words, you would get the standard of, an, the, it, etc. that make of the most frequent words in the English language (if you’re wondering, the top word used in the October 2021 conference is the).

Even after taking these words out, it turns out that the most frequently used words are consistent from conference to conference. You can consider it the church lexical Top 100. For example, the top words used this conference after taking out the Top 100 English words are: Christ, Jesus, God, Lord, love, church. These words, and other similar words, typically take the top ranks in words used in every general conference.

To understand what is specifically emphasized during a particular conference, we have to find the words that are used more frequently than in the past general conferences. I do this by dividing the number of times a word is used in the current conference by the average number of times it is used in past conference.

Unfortunately, this metric alone is somewhat tricky. Many talks will utilize a somewhat obscure word several times, but this does not reflect a particular emphasis or topic. For example, the word soccer was used this past conference 1000% more compared to average past conference usage. But that’s only because conference talks don’t usually discuss soccer. After all, it only took three mentions in a story during this past conference to put the word at 1000%.

To sort out the truly emphasized word from the ‘rare but unimportant’ words, I add another filter. To make it on the chart, a word needs to be used at least 25 times. A word that is used 25 times usually deals with a main topic that is covered by more than one speaker.

Looking at the infographic, you can see the graph of which words were used most frequently, and which words were used much more frequently than in past conferences.

(article continues below infographic)

I bring the analysis detail up for a reason. Usually words like Nelson or Christ are not the interesting part of the analysis. Not that these aren’t important words — it’s just that it’s not surprising that they are being used frequently.

With President Nelson leading the church, it’s not surprising that his name is mentioned much more frequently than it has been in the past.

And it’s not surprising that Christ is mentioned very frequently during a conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

However, as I compared this Conference by the Numbers to past analyses, I couldn’t help but notice that Nelson keeps taking a top spot of emphasis. It even seemed to get a higher emphasis rate than Monson did during President Thomas S. Monson’s tenure.

Additionally, words related to deity such as Christ usually don’t make the ‘emphasized’ list because they typically aren’t uniquely emphasized in a given conference. However, this conference, the name Christ was used more than twice as frequently as in past conferences. It’s a name that is always used frequently, but the frequency seems to be trending up.

As a result, I wanted to take a closer look at how these names are used across general conferences over time. In the bottom half of the infographic, I looked at the frequency of occurrence of the name of the President of the Church over the last 40 years.

It is perhaps unsurprising that each prophet has his name mentioned frequently during his time as president of the church. Notably, the frequency over time seems to be fairly consistent from church leader to church leader, with 2 exceptions.

Exception 1. The first exception occurred near the end of President Kimball’s presidency and during the entirety of President Benson’s presidency. During this time, references to both prophets are marked by lower-than-average frequencies. I suspect this was related to the physical activity of the president of the church.

During the end of his tenure, President Kimball was sick and bedridden. Similarly, while President Benson presided for nearly 9 years, he was unwell for a majority of this time. Perhaps in some ways, the use of the name of the prophet represents how active his role is in directly leading and guiding the church at the time.

Exception 2. The second exception supports this hypothesis as well, but from the opposite direction. The other outlier in the chart is the use of the name of President Nelson. He is referred to more than twice as frequently as the other presidents of the church during their tenure.

Why has this occurred more frequently? I suspect it is the large number of changes in the church and the consistent and persistent invitations given from President Nelson. President Nelson has been proactively engaged with preaching, teaching, and revealing changes to the church. And as members of the church discuss those things, they naturally refer to the prophet who is active in those teachings and revelations.

What about the name of Jesus Christ? Why has the use of the name of Jesus Christ increased?

Perhaps this arose due to the challenge issued by President Nelson in 2018 to use the correct name of the church (see The Correct Name of the Church)? Is the rise in the reference to Christ related to a rise in references to the Church of Jesus Christ?

After looking at general conference of the usage of the term Church of Jesus Christ there really hasn’t been a significant change in the usage in the last 40 years. Upon reflection, this should not be surprising. As insiders, we know the name of the church and have used it quite frequently for a very long time. It’s been primarily with our external interactions that the name Mormon comes into frequent use.

So why the change in the use of the name of Jesus Christ? I don’t have a simple explanation, other than that talks are more closely focusing on Jesus Christ. Looking at the numbers, this trend started before President Nelson was president of the church, but the change has continued to accelerate. Perhaps the focus on the name of the church has helped members, including general authorities, to recognize the power and purpose in the name of Jesus Christ.

I, for one, have found great power in the name of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to use his name and then not focus on the power and grace he has to offer. It is interesting that focus was another emphasized word. Perhaps as a church, we are learning to focus on the words of the prophet President Nelson and learn the power in the name of Jesus Christ.

More of Conference by the Numbers

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, I’m now publishing my Conference by the Numbers on Medium.com.

You can find some past Conference by the Numbers here:

April 2021
October 2020

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Adam Washburn

Adam Washburn

PhD Chemist, father of six kids, and local bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.