First Presidency announces changes to general conference, including discontinuing Saturday evening session

The Saturday evening session of general conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be discontinued, the First Presidency announced Monday, June 7.

Church leaders also announced a return to the Conference Center auditorium for the October 2021 general conference.

The announcement — made Monday, June 7, on Newsroom — also stated that the Conference Center will be closed to the public for the Oct. 2 and 3 sessions, which will again be virtual events to be streamed worldwide.

Beginning with the October 2021 general conference and continuing thereafter, the Saturday evening session will be discontinued. The change is being made because all sessions of general conference are now available to anyone who desires to watch or listen, according to the Newsroom release.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Conference Center in Salt Lake City sits empty on Friday, April 3, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the church’s 190th Annual General Conference will be broadcast from a small auditorium on Temple Square.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Conference Center in Salt Lake City sits empty on Friday, April 3, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the church’s 190th Annual General Conference will be broadcast from a small auditorium on Temple Square. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The upcoming general conference will be the first held in the Conference Center auditorium since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Held since the Church’s organization in 1830, general conferences provide an opportunity for Latter-day Saints and friends worldwide to receive messages about the Savior Jesus Christ and His gospel from living Prophets and Apostles.

Originating from Temple Square in Salt Lake City, conferences are held twice a year — the first weekends of April and October, with the April conferences of the Church called “annual” conferences and the October ones called “semiannual.”

Discontinuing the Saturday evening session is the latest in a series of changes — not only for that specific session but for general conference as a whole.

Saturday evening sessions

For decades, general conference was conducted over three days, with two meetings held daily; sometimes a fourth day was added. The annual conference always included meetings on April 6, the anniversary of the Church’s organization.

Priesthood sessions were not considered a part of general conference until April 1944.

In April 1977, general conference was reduced to two-day events, held on the first Sundays of April and October and the preceding Saturdays.

Women listen as President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, not pictured, speaks during the women's session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.
Women listen as President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, not pictured, speaks during the women’s session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Credit: Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Annual general Relief Society meetings, held the Saturday evening a week before October general conference, started in 1986, with Young Women meetings on the Saturday evening before April general conference added in 1994. 

Church leaders announced in late 2013 that beginning in 2014, a general women’s meeting for those ages 8 and older would replace the two separate meetings for women and young women. Later in 2014, the First Presidency acknowledged that the general women’s meetings would be designated officially as “the general women’s session of general conference.”

Since 2018, the priesthood and women’s sessions of general conference have alternated — the Saturday evening session in April for all holders of the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood and the Saturday evening session in October for all women and girls ages 11 and older.

The sole exception was a November 2019 First Presidency announcement that — due to April 2020 general conference’s bicentennial commemoration of the First Vision — the Saturday evening session of that conference would be for all members of the Church ages 11 and older.

Pandemic impacts on general conference

Ironically, that specially focused April 2020 general conference was also the first of the COVID-19 pandemic period, with the Church closing general conference sessions to the public as a precaution.

And rather than originate from the Conference Center auditorium, the April 2020 general conference was broadcast and live-streamed from a small studio in the Church Office Building, with sessions limited to only the meeting’s participants, who wore masks and practiced social distancing.

Members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are seen before the Saturday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 191st Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on April 3, 2021.
Members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are seen before the Saturday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 191st Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on April 3, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The October 2020 and April 2021 general conferences originated once again to the Conference Center — but not the 21,000-seat auditorium. Rather, the two most recent conferences were live-streamed from the adjacent Conference Center Theater, with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve seated on the rostrum for the sessions.

With the October 2021 sessions in the Conference Center auditorium, general conference returns to its traditional site used from 2000 through 2019, until the start of the pandemic. Before 2000, general conferences were held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.