The April 2016 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially began March 26 with the women’s session, the first of general conference. But 40 years ago, there was no such meeting — in fact, the general conferences of decades past are drastically different from today’s in many ways. Here are 10 ways general conference has changed in the last 40 years.
1. Two days instead of three
Though the Church’s first two-day general conference was in 1831 (just one year after the Church’s organization), the tradition of a three-day conference began later and continued through the decades. In 1977, general conference was changed from a three-day event to just two days.
2. The General Women’s Session exists
In the 1970s, there was no general conference session specifically for women (though some women leaders were invited to the Welfare Session, see below). Annual women’s meetings were held the Saturday before the general sessions beginning in 1986. Young Women meetings were added in 1994, and in 2014, all women over age eight were invited to attend the same general women’s session the Saturday prior to general sessions.
3. Only general authorities and officers speak
For about the last two decades, only general authorities and general officers of the Church have been invited to speak or pray in general conference. But in the 1970s and 80s (and even into the 90s), it wasn’t unusual for stake presidents, mission presidents and even football coaches (if BYU had a good year) to speak in general conference.
4. Women pray in conference now
Though both men and women who were not general authorities could speak in general conference (women not in leadership positions sometimes spoke in women’s meetings), only men gave the prayers until 2013, when Sister Jean A. Stevens became the first woman to give a public prayer in general conference.
5. Size of live audience
In the 1970s, general conference was broadcast over the radio and KSL television. Starting in 1975, sessions were broadcast via satellite to Church buildings outside Utah. Today, with online streaming available to anyone with an Internet connection, the size of the potential live audience is exponentially bigger.
6. Improved translation efforts
The first translation of general conference sessions into other languages (Dutch, German, Samoan and Spanish) began in October 1961. Today, according to Mormon Newsroom, approximately 800 people work to interpret and translate portions of general conference into 93 different languages. Forty-three languages are interpreted in the Conference Center and broadcast via satellite.
7. Conference is held in the Conference Center, not the Tabernacle
Forty years ago general conference was held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, which has a seating capacity of 8,000. The Conference Center was completed in 2000 and holds 21,000 people.
8. No more Welfare Session
In decades past, a Welfare Session of general conference addressed the temporal needs of the Church and its members. The last was held in 1982.
9. Social media efforts
Today, much of the conversation about general conference happens online. The #LDSconf hashtag came into popularity a few years ago when Church members began live tweeting general conference. This dynamic did not exist 40 years ago.
10. Completely new Quorum of the Twelve
Believe it or not, President Thomas S. Monson is the only living apostle today who was an apostle 40 years ago. President Russell M. Nelson, the senior apostle in the quorum, was sustained in 1984.