About 60 percent of churches have developed Web sites in the last three years. But any frequent visitor will tell you that most church sites are little more than glorified maps listing driving directions and service times.

That will not be the case much longer.

While new research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicates that many church sites are bare-bones operations, the study also indicates that churches are starting to recognize the Web's potential to streamline office work and provide up-to-date information to large numbers of people. If the Pew study's findings are correct, church Web sites are well on their way to becoming community-building tools. (The study can be found at www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=28.)

Pew researchers found that 83 percent of church sites were specifically designed to encourage visitors to attend worship services. Such sites are heavy on maps and mission statements. And more than half of the sites surveyed are beginning to post weekly schedules and meeting minutes on the Web.

Almost 80 percent of the churches surveyed had been running a Web site for more than year. More than 40 percent were in their second year of operation. Most of these sites, however, were created by volunteers from within the congregation without direction by clergy or a church committee. Consequently, pastors and leaders are just now beginning to become involved in strategizing the potential uses of the Web.

Churches in the Pew study hope to upgrade their sites in a variety of ways. Most give high priority to developing youth materials at their sites. Because more than 60 percent of youth reported spending "a significant amount of time" online every week, youth directors have begun to develop plans ...

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