Which are the most influential General Conference talks?

After most General Conferences, there are one or two talks that really stay with me. Some of those talks enter the language of many members, such as Elder Oaks’s framing of choices that are “good, better, best.” Is there any way to identify the most influential talks?

We could begin with who influences the influencers. A simple way to measure that would be to count how often a talk is quoted by other leaders of the Church in their own conference talks. (Obviously this is just one indicator of influence. I’ll talk about limitations and alternatives at the end of the post.) I went through every conference talk from the last 5 years (October 2012 – April 2017) and identified those conference talks that were quoted most frequently by other speakers. Below are the 12 talks that were most frequently quoted.

Are there talks that you would have expected to be there but aren’t? How do you think the list would change if we extended the sample to the last 20 years? How would you measure influence differently?

The 12 Most Influential General Conference Talks (as measured by quotes in the last 5 years)

Who? What? Sample quotes

President Thomas S. Monson

The Holy Temple – A Beacon to the World

April 2011

Quoted 6 times

“The world can be a challenging and difficult place in which to live. … As you and I go to the holy houses of God, as we remember the covenants we make within, we will be more able to bear every trial and to overcome each temptation. In this sacred sanctuary we will find peace.” (Andersen, Waddell)

 

“Those who understand the eternal blessings which come from the temple know that no sacrifice is too great, no price too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings.” (Richards, Walker)

President Thomas S. Monson

Be of Good Cheer

April 2009

Quoted 4 times

“The future is as bright as your faith.” (Andersen, Nash, Wixom)

 

“Our promised blessings are beyond measure. Though the storm clouds may gather, though the rains may pour down upon us, our knowledge of the gospel and our love of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior will comfort and sustain us and bring joy to our hearts as we walk uprightly and keep the commandments. There will be nothing in this world that can defeat us.” (Cordon)

President Thomas S. Monson

Finding Joy in Journey

October 2008

Quoted 4 times

“Find joy in the journey.” (Wixom)

 

“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”  (Robbins)

President Russell M. Nelson

A Plea to My Sisters

October 2015

Quoted 4 times

“Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation. We need women who can detect deception in all of its forms. We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity. We need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve.” (Jones, Oscarson, Stephens)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

The Challenge to Become

October 2000

Quoted 4 times

“The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.” (Christofferson)

 

“It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” (Keetch)

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

Come What May, and Love It

October 2008

Quoted 4 times

“I still remember her [my mother’s] advice to me given on that day long ago when my team lost a football game: ‘Come what may, and love it.’ … Adversity, if handled correctly, can be a blessing in our lives. … As we look for humor, seek for the eternal perspective, understand the principle of compensation, and draw near to our Heavenly Father, we can endure hardship and trial. We can say, as did my mother, ‘Come what may, and love it.’” (Bednar)

 

“The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. … Every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” (Duncan)

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

The Power of Covenants

April 2009

Quoted 3 times

 “In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is found the priesthood authority to administer the ordinances by which we can enter into binding covenants with our Heavenly Father in the name of His Holy Son. … God will keep His promises to you as you honor your covenants with Him.” (Stephens)

 

“Let your covenants be paramount and let your obedience be exact. Then you can ask in faith, nothing wavering, according to your need, and God will answer. He will sustain you as you work and watch. In His own time and way He will stretch forth his hand to you, saying, ‘Here am I.’” (Brough)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

The Laborers in the Vineyard

April 2012

Quoted 3 times

“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made … , I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” (Cornish, Reeves)

 

“To those of you … who may still be hanging back, to each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His grace. … It is never too late so long as the Master of the vineyard says there is time. … Don’t delay.” (Stevenson)

President Thomas S. Monson

Priesthood Power

April 2011

Quoted 3 times

“I maintain that a strong testimony of our Savior and of His gospel will…protect you from the sin and evil around you. … If you do not already have a testimony of these things, do that which is necessary to obtain one. It is essential for you to have your own testimony, for the testimonies of others will carry you only so far.” (Christensen)

 

“The Savior of mankind described Himself as being in the world but not of the world. We also can be in the world but not of the world as we reject false concepts and false teachings and remain true to that which God has commanded.” (Andersen)

President Thomas S. Monson

What Have I Done for Someone Today?

October 2009

Quoted 3 times

“We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.” (Burton, Rasband)

 

“I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives.” (Esplin)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Good, Better, Best

October 2007

Quoted 3 times

“As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best.” (Godoy)

President Boyd K. Packer

The Plan of Happiness

April 2015

Quoted 3 times

“The Atonement, which can reclaim each one of us, bears no scars. That means that no matter what we have done or where we have been or how something happened, if we truly repent, He [the Savior] has promised that He would atone. And when He atoned, that settled that. There are so many of us who are thrashing around, as it were, with feelings of guilt, not knowing quite how to escape. You escape by accepting the Atonement of Christ, and all that was heartache can turn to beauty and love and eternity. … I am so grateful for the Atonement which can wash clean every stain no matter how difficult or how long or how many times repeated. The Atonement can put you free again to move forward, cleanly and worthily.” (Bednar, Reeves, Renlund)

 

It’s notable that the most heavily quoted talks are all recent. Of the 12 talks most quoted in the last 5 years, 11 of them were given within the last 10 years. Only Elder Oaks’s talk on The Challenge to Become comes from earlier.

Limitations and alternatives: The best way to capture influence might be to do a survey of members. Another way would be to collect sacrament meeting talks and see who is reference. This method – borrowed by academia – relies on publicly available data, although it’s still not simple. I only count actual quotes. Many General Conference speakers mention or reference talks in their footnotes. I don’t include those here, since speakers vary dramatically in how extensively they reference their influences in the footnotes. This method also undercounts talks that have been incorporated into the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church books. It would be possible to include those, by going back to each of those books and seeing the source of the quote, but I haven’t done that here. (My informed intuition from going through the talks is that including those would not have changed this list.) I also tracked quotes from articles in Church magazines, but none of them had at least 3 quotes.

15 comments for “Which are the most influential General Conference talks?

  1. Mark
    May 19, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Thanks for this article. The Oaks talk on becoming is the one I remember most. It’s not about earning brownie points, it’s about changing your nature to become Christlike through living the Gospel.

  2. May 19, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I would imagine talks that are quoted in the First Presidency and Visiting Teaching messages in the Ensign would be influential as well.

  3. Clark Goble
    May 19, 2017 at 10:34 am

    My all time favorite I just can’t find. I had an oft used photocopy that was lost in a basement flood. It was by Elder Ashton (I think) and was about how our judgment of curses and blessings is messed up. People in affluent suburban lifestyles may be cursed because they don’t get the type of challenges to fight against but have everything so easy. The idea is that if mortality is about progression we can’t tell what is or isn’t a blessing from our limited perspective. Been looking for it for 15 years and never have found it.

    My second all time favorite is “Scripture Reading and Revelation by Elder Oaks.

    For most cited though, I did a quick search on lds.org for some famous talks. McConkie’s “Doctrine of the Priesthood” brought up lots of cites but surprisingly only one in Conference. Benson’s “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” was quoted 5 times in conference but a whole lot outside of conference. Kimball’s “The False Gods We Worship” was only quoted twice in Conference.

  4. Chase
    May 19, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Another way to think of influence is to consider how a talk shapes the way members think and talk about the Gospel. In this regard Elder Bednar is hugely influential. In a 2001 BYU address, later represented as a 2004 Conference address — both titled “In the Strength of the Lord” — Elder Bednar introduced the phrase “the enabling power of the atonement.” Since then (according to a search on http://www.lds-general-conference.org/) that phrase has been used 12 times in General Conference and untold times within Sunday school classes and sacrament meetings. He did it again in 2005 with his address “The Tender Mercies of the Lord.” Since then, that phrase has become a familiar shorthand in the Church for divine “coincidences” and other spiritual experiences.

  5. sch
    May 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    “We could begin with who influences the influencers. A simple way to measure that would be to count how often a talk is quoted by other leaders of the Church in their own conference talks.”

    There are significant shortcomings in using this as a way of measuring the impact of a sermon. I believe that by design, during his time as a prophet, a prophet is going to be quoted often and repeatedly. By design. Our General Authorities like to emphasize our living prophet, and therefore will quote him purposefully in place of others. Thus President Hinckley was the most quoted GA until his death. Since then quotes by him have become relatively rare as we turned to President Monson. Therefore, by design we quote the current prophet the most, and will work hard to find thoughts or quotes of his to press into service.

  6. anita
    May 19, 2017 at 12:19 pm
  7. Clark Goble
    May 19, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Wow. That is it! Thank you. I’ve been looking for that for years and never could find it on lds.org. No one else has been able to find it either. I am amazingly grateful. Rereading it, it’s as good as I remembered.

  8. Happy Hubby
    May 19, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    Even in my state of very little belief in the top leaders of the church having any devine guidance, I will admit I still really like the following (you had all of my top 3):

    Oak’s “the Challenge to Become” – Really helped me stop looking at checklists and what kind of person am I.

    Wirthlin’s “Come What May, and Love It” – It helped me through a rough time. A bit Buddha-istic now that I look back on it a bit.

    Oak’s “Good, Better, Best” – Always a good to look at things this way when prioritizing. I don’t think he would appreciate that I don’t put the church in the “best” column much any more and using this method is making me back away from church activity. But the principle is good.

  9. Eric
    May 20, 2017 at 2:30 am

    If we’re talking about most influential conference talks, the ones that come most readily to mind for me are President Benson’s “Beware of Pride,” and Elder McConkie’s “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane.” I don’t know how often they’re quoted or referenced directly these days, but it isn’t hard to see the effect they’ve had on the membership.

  10. Dub
    May 20, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Also perhaps outside the timing and measurement criteria scope of this post, but I would put President Benson’s talks emphasizing the Book of Mormon high on the list. My perception is that his emphasis created a significant shift in members’ and leaders’ teaching that still endures.

  11. Not a Cougar
    May 20, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Dub, amen to that. I personally think that the emphasis has gone a bit overboard, and we are far too ignorant overall of the Bible. I had a mission companion who chided me for reading the New Testament because “the prophets have told us to focus on the Book of Mormon.” I really hated being his companion (not for this in particular, but because he was a jerk).

  12. Mortimer
    May 21, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Mmmm, I can’t help but notice how many female GAs and new GAs we’re the ones re-citing the President and other “tenured” apostles. That has to be deferential as much as anything, especially the frequent quoting of the Prophet. Female GAs are often criticized for not expounding on doctrine themselves, but quoting the brethren and then merely “likening” scripture through personal experience. This isn’t a measure of impact…much more convenience (related topics) and deference.

    What about website hits and downloads? Number of spin-off Deseret books? Number of re-citations in Lds books? Or perhaps cultural impact? (For example, when President Benson called women home from their laundry vats and typewriters, many sisters in US wards quit school and jobs. An uptick in support for refugee charity after the call came out, number of SR missionaries that surge when someone gives a call for that service in Gen Conf, etc. can all point to the impact of a talk. ) We can always measure the buzz on the bloggernacle for controversial talks. Just about every big island on the bloggernacle got a lot of mileage when “mothers who know” came out!

    Ping Zelophehad’s Daughters, they have really interesting statistical methods for measuring such questions.

  13. Moss
    May 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Great point, Mortimer. That jumped out at me, too.

  14. May 21, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Chase wrote, “Another way to think of influence is to consider how a talk shapes the way members think and talk about the Gospel. In this regard Elder Bednar is hugely influential. In a 2001 BYU address, later represented as a 2004 Conference address — both titled “In the Strength of the Lord” — Elder Bednar introduced the phrase “the enabling power of the atonement.” Since then (according to a search on http://www.lds-general-conference.org/) that phrase has been used 12 times in General Conference and untold times within Sunday school classes and sacrament meetings.

    If there is a phrase that I would go to war over it has to be the “Enabling power of the Atonement”! The belief that the Atonement has power is the worst thing any General Authority has come up with in the last 100 years. (Hyperbole intended.) I have argued with my Stake President, Bishop, and sundry Church teachers on this issue, all to no avail, because unfortunately I have neither Church authority nor technical credentials to speak on this subject. But this hasn’t deferred me. This has be a solo effort until this past April when President Nelson gave what I believe to be the seminal talk in Conference.

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/04/drawing-the-power-of-jesus-christ-into-our-lives?lang=eng

    In it he argued that there is no such thing as the “Enabling power of the Atonement” and in fact there is no power in the Atonement at all.

    I’m not sure how this doctrinal conflict will play out at the level of the Quorum but I will continue my efforts at gaining converts at undoing the damage caused by those who believe in the “Enabling power of the Atonement.” But at least now I’m not alone as I have President Nelson on my side. This comment is my feeble attempt at gaining converts in this cause.

    Thanks David for this article.

    All the best,

    Bob.

  15. Clark Goble
    May 22, 2017 at 10:59 am

    If there is a phrase that I would go to war over it has to be the “Enabling power of the Atonement”! The belief that the Atonement has power is the worst thing any General Authority has come up with in the last 100 years. (Hyperbole intended.) I have argued with my Stake President, Bishop, and sundry Church teachers on this issue, all to no avail, because unfortunately I have neither Church authority nor technical credentials to speak on this subject. But this hasn’t deferred me. This has be a solo effort until this past April when President Nelson gave what I believe to be the seminal talk in Conference.

    Isn’t his point that it is incomplete since it can be misinterpreted as a one time event or independent of Christ. But that isn’t dismissing the idea of the enabling power of the Atonement so much as a misunderstanding of what that means.

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