People who use the Internet to "shop" for a churchhome will likely be turned off by a poorly produced church Web site,while a slick, interactive site could help draw new members in if achurch invests the right resources, say the authors of a new study.

A group of students at Hartford Seminary surveyed individual churchWeb sites and compiled questionnaires. They found that churches thatinvest in up-to-date Web sites do a better job of catching the attentionof would-be churchgoers.

"A poorly done Web site may be more of a detriment for a church thanno Web site at all," said Scott Thuma, a professor at the HartfordInstitute for Religion Research.

Thuma said the sample of 63 church Web sites was not scientificallyrepresentative of all church Web sites, but said the study highlightsthe growing importance of a church's presence on the World Wide Web.

Of the Web sites surveyed, Catholic parishes represented 26 percent,Southern Baptists nearly 16 percent and nondenominational congregations13 percent. The remaining 45 percent were a mix of evangelical andmainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim houses of worship.

Most of the churches surveyed -- 75.8 percent -- rely on Web-savvymembers to create their Web sites. Nearly half of the Web sites were theidea of a lay member, while pastors pushed their churches onto theInternet 30 percent of the time.

Fifty-six percent of the Web sites were operational within twomonths, and in half of the cases, a committee or task force helped setup the site. Just under half -- 43 percent -- said their sites wereaimed at a public, non-church audience, while only 7 percent said theirsites were geared toward their own congregations.

Thuma said the most important aspect of a parish Web site is that itbe comprehensive, easy to use and interactive whenever possible. That isespecially important for people who use the Internet to find a newchurch, and for young people, he said.

"Increasingly, your Web page may be the only glimpse people everhave of your congregation," he said. "At least spend as much time andmoney on your site as you would on your congregation's landscaping.Plant something on the World Wide Web that will attract, not detract,from your church's mission."