Churches need to be constantly asking the question, "who lives in our neighborhood and how can we reach out to them?" Secondary research, also known as desk research, will help you answer that question. Church leaders can consult data from the U.S. Census Bureau or a demographic provider such as MissionInsite. However, I recommend you push away from your desk and go out into your neighborhood to conduct primary research as well.
Primary research, also called field research, involves the collection of data that does not already exist. The Census Bureau, for example, does not ask questions about religious affiliation. You can gather that information from some households by going door to door around the church.
Bill Hybels is one of the best known practitioners of door to door research. Before launching Willow Creek Community Church he went door to door in South Barrington, IL. He asked residents one question, "what do you like least about the church?" He was frequently told "churches are always asking for money." As a result of this primary research Willow Creek does not pass the offering plate during the seeker services on Sunday.
Of course Pastor Hybel's learned more than just the answer to his one question. Church members volunteered where they already went to church. Some of the unchurched peppered him with questions, telling him what issues were foremost on the minds of the unchurched. Conversations at the door, even brief ones, can be very rich.
His perambulating had another benefit as well. He was able to announce the formation of a new church, one the unchurched might want to join. After all they had already met the pastor.
Casual Primary Research
You can also conduct casual or incidental primary research. Let's say you are sending out teams of two people to invite people to Easter service. Each team takes a stack of doorhangers. If someone is home they hand them the doorhanger and invite them to church. The resident might say thanks but I already attend a church, mentioning the name of the church. If no one is home, put a doorhanger on the door and move on to the next house.
Be sure to debrief the teams when they return to your church. What did they hear and learn? This casual primary research will be quite interesting and valuable.