In His Steps takes place in the railroad town of Raymond, probably located in the eastern U.S.A. (Chicago, IL and the coast of Maine are mentioned as being accessible by train), and Chicago Illinois. The main character is the Rev. Henry Maxwell, pastor of the First Church of Raymond, who challenges his congregation to not do anything for a whole year without first asking: “What Would Jesus Do?” Other characters include Ed Norman, senior editor of the Raymond Daily Newspaper, Rachel Winslow, a talented singer, and Virginia Page, an heiress, to name a few.
The novel begins on a Friday morning when a man out of work (later identified as Jack Manning) appears at the front door of Henry Maxwell while the latter is preparing for that Sunday’s upcoming sermon. Maxwell listens to the man’s helpless plea briefly before brushing him away and closing the door. The same man appears in church at the end of the Sunday sermon, walks up to “the open space in front of the pulpit,” and faces the people. No one stops him. He quietly but frankly confronts the congregation—“I’m not complaining; just stating facts.”—about their compassion, or apathetic lack thereof, for the jobless like him in Raymond. Upon finishing his address to the congregation, he collapses, and dies a few days later.
That next Sunday, Henry Maxwell, deeply moved by the events of the past week, presents a challenge to his congregation: “Do not do anything without first asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’” This challenge is the theme of the novel and is the driving force of the plot. From this point on, the rest of the novel consists of certain episodes that focus on individual characters as their lives are transformed by the challenge.
Norman decides not to print a prize fight, and to discontinue the Sunday edition, leaving a drop in subscriptions. Alexander Powers starts a small meeting for the railroad men, but also discovers the railroad's fraud against the ICC. He resigns his post, and goes to work as a telegraph clerk. Rollin Page proposes to Rachel Winslow, who rejects him, because he has no direction. Later Rachel and Virginia help Mr. and Mrs. Gray with meetings in the Rectangle (an area surrounded by saloons), and Rollin experiences conversion. Later, Virginia takes Laureen, a drunken lady who was earlier converted, to her house, to the dismay of her grandmother who leaves for high society. Jasper Chase, against the "What Would Jesus Do" vow, decides to print his novel anyways. Virginia later uses her inheritance to buy the Rectangle property and also to help Norman's newspaper. Rollin, having a purpose for his life helping people, declares love for Rachel.
Chapters 16–24 shift the action to Chicago, with Dr. Calvin Bruce from Chicago visiting Raymond, and writing what he saw. He then decides to try similarly. Dr. Bruce does a similar pledge. His bishop, Bishop Edward Hampton visits him also. Rachel's cousins, Felicia and Rose are orphaned when their father commits suicide and their mother dies of shock. They go to live in Raymond for a little bit. Dr. Bruce and the Bishop start a work in the Settlement (similar to the Rectangle), with help from Felicia. The Bishop is held up, but the robber realizes the Bishop was the same person who helped him, and he reforms. Some of the characters from the earlier chapters, such as Henry Maxwell, Rachel Winslow, appear to see the work in the Settlement. The last chapter has a vision Henry Maxwell sees, telling some of the future of many of the characters in the book.
- Rev. Henry Maxwell, pastor of 1st church of Raymond, having been there 10 years when the story starts.
- Mrs. Mary Maxwell, Henry Maxwell's wife. Appears briefly in chapter 1.
- Jack Manning, a man who lost his job 10 months earlier due to the Linotype machine making him redundant, collapses in Rev. Maxwell's church, and later dies in his house starting the chain of events.
- Dr. Phillip West, local medical doctor.
- Rachel Winslow, a young woman, cousin of Felicia and Rose, who trades a singing career for singing for the services in the Rectangle. Eventually marries Rollin Page.
- Edward Norman, editor of the Daily News
- George, one of the clerks for the Daily News, who works with the delivery boys.
- Clark, one of the managing editors of the Daily News
- Alexander Powers, Railroad superintendent of L&T R.R., later telegraph clerk
- Celia Powers, Alexander's daughter
- Donald Marsh, president of Lincoln College in Raymond
- Milton Wright, a businessman
- Jasper Chase, a author, rebuffed by Rachel, then conspicuously absent, finally denies his Lord.
- Virginia Page, an young heiress, friend of Rachel
- Madame Florence Page, Virginia's grandmother
- Rollin Page, Virginia's brother, who will eventually marry Rachel.
- Jennifer Winslow, Rachel's mother, and Felicia & Rose's aunt.
- Lewis Winslow, Rachel's brother
- Mr. & Mrs. John Gray, traveling evangelists, who work in the Rectangle
- Fred Morris, Endeavor Society president, later works for Norman's paper
- Loreen Carson, a drunken lady, who later dies hit on the head.
- Mrs Brown, Miss Wren, Miss Kyle, schoolteachers in Raymond
People from Chicago
- Felicia Sterling, Rachel's cousin, 19 years old with brown eyes. Orphaned in the story, later marries Clyde
- Rose Sterling, Felicia's sister, and Rachel's other cousin, 21 years old at the time of the story. Later marries for wealth, and dark details obscured.
- Mrs. Delano, a chaperone for young girls.
- Mr. Stephen Clyde, a carpenter, marries Felicia Sterling
- Rev. Calvin Bruce, D.D., seminary classmate of Henry Maxwell, pastor of Nazareth Avenue Church in Chicago. Challenged by what has happened in Raymond, does similarly in Chicago.
- Mrs. Bruce, Rev. Calvin's wife.
- Charles R. Sterling, father of Felicia and Rose. Commits suicide when he loses his fortune.
- Camilla Rolf Sterling, mother of Felicia and Rose, and Rachel's aunt. Chose to marry Charles instead of the Bishop. Dies of shock with the death of her husband.
- Bishop Edward Hampton, works with Dr. Calvin Bruce.
- Burns, a person whom Bishop Hampton helped 15 years before. Tries, with an unnamed friend to rob the Bishop, but stops when he realizes who the Bishop is.
- Clayton Price, owner of a saloon by the settlement.
- Clarence Penrose, owner of houses in Chicago.
- Diana Penrose, his daughter
- Unnamed man, who knew Jack Manning when in Philadelphia, and said he was a good man.
- Carlson, a socialist leader.