Quentin Spencer, a senior data analyst at Neustar Inc. in Lubbock, Texas, presented at the 2020 virtual Sunstone Symposium and had some interested data when it came to General Conference trends over the years. He created a computer program to track the trends of conference sermons from 1942 to 2020. Here were his findings:
• Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson both have given the most general conference talks with more than 200 talks each, followed by David O. McKay and Spencer W. Kimball who both had under 150.
• Eldred G. Smith (longtime church patriarch), Elder Marion D. Hanks (a Seventy) Bruce R. McConkie (while he was a Seventy) have spoken the most during General Conference besides the apostles.
• From 1942 to the late 1980s, New Testament passages were the most cited scriptures. From then on, verses from the church’s signature text, the Book of Mormon, frequently surpassed them.
• The most frequently cited scriptural passage was Moses 1:39 from the Pearl of Great Price. It says: “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” It was mentioned more than 400 times.
• Use of the word “drugs” hit its peak in 1970, with more than 250 mentions per million words, but then declined to almost zero between 2015 and 2020.
• The phrase “plan of happiness” was never used until 1980, then it ticked up and even surpassed the “plan of salvation,” which was used often from 1950 to 2020.
• “Pornography” was mentioned sporadically in 1960, then became more common, peaking in 2007 at more than 250 times per million words, with 14% of the uses coming from Hinckley.
• The term “scripture study” was not used until after 1970, then peaked in 2010.
• The “atonement of Jesus Christ” was mentioned fewer than 50 times for every million words at General Conferences from 1942 until the late 1990s, when it reached just under 100. Use of the phrase continued to climb as the decades progressed, topping out at 200 in 2012.
• Church presidents who were mentioned most often after their deaths — faith founder Joseph Smith and pioneer-prophet Brigham Young, followed by Kimball and Hinckley. Those mentioned the least were Monson, Howard W. Hunter and Lorenzo Snow.
• The church president who has talked about works the most is Russell M. Nelson, the faith’s leader today, while the use of “grace-oriented language” continues to rise among a handful of current apostles.
Spencer also noted in an interview that some Latter-day Saint leaders who lean further toward “grace” in their conference addresses, including Gerrit W. Gong, Jeffrey R. Holland and Dieter F. Uchtdorf “seem to be quite popular with the membership.”
That suggests “there’s a real hunger in the church for that message on grace,” he said, “which hasn’t really been promoted much until this current generation of leaders.”
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