The first way is community:
Those who attempt to find community exclusively online will miss out on the fullness and authenticity of relationships God intends for us to have face to face. Gathering together (Heb. 10:25) requires feet and faces, not just electrons and avatars. Therefore, when a Christian seeks to be a part of a local church only by live streaming the worship service and conversing on message boards, he is short-circuiting the fellowship of the saints and his own spiritual growth. Yet, I do not believe that virtual community and real community are enemies. I see them more as friends, the former as a help to the latter. Unfortunately, for too many theologically-minded pastors, their aversion to the abuses of social media has distracted them from the opportunity they provide.
While social media cannot replace real-life interpersonal relationships, they can assist in building real community by connecting people in ways that allow them to share both the big and small things of life. Web services such as Facebook allow people who might see one another only during church on Sunday, or midweek in smaller community groups, to continue to share aspects of life they would not otherwise. This allows friends to look into the parts of life we share and respond with encouragement or exhortation.
The second way is communication. As I said in the article, the age of the bulletin may not have completely passed, but these days people rely on so many other forms of communication to stay abreast of current events. The speed with which news can travel using social media is nothing short of amazing. For example, when my friend Matt Chandler had a seizure last year and I sent a tweet asking for prayers, the "re-tweet" function had the request going out to huge numbers of people within minutes. Matt was a trending topic on Twitter that day, which means that he was one of the ten most mentioned phrases or words in all of Twitter. People all over the world knew about his situation and prayed for Matt thanks to Twitter (note his name in the lower right corner).
The final two ways listed are inspiration and better introductions. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter all provide ways to share inspiring thoughts and gospel-centered messages (often in 140 characters or less!). And social media also allows people to share things about themselves more fully and with a broader group of people. We are actually getting to know each other better in some ways through the use of electronic media.
These things can never take the place of human contact, but to ignore them and the role they can play in fostering community is unwise. They are helpful tools that the world is using, and that the church can benefit from.
As I consider social media in the twenty-first century, I can't help but think of the spread of the gospel and the church's growth in the first century. Communication was greatly aided then by the common language of Koine Greek. Since the New Testament was written in a language accessible to so many, the Word of God was able to penetrate different cultures rapidly. Perhaps today the new media will be the "common language" for the masses to hear the gospel.